Started To Fade

On Monday, the data released
Showed growth in the US decreased
As well, hope ‘bout trade
Has started to fade
And snow overwhelmed the Northeast

In a word, yesterday sucked. At least that’s the case if you were bullish on essentially any US asset when the session started. Early equity market gains were quickly reversed when the ISM data printed at substantially worse than expected levels. Not only did the headline release (48.1) miss expectations, which was biased toward a modest improvement over the October readings, but all of the sub-indices along with the headline number actually fell further from October. Arguably the biggest concern came from the New Orders Index which printed its lowest level (47.2) since the financial crisis. Granted, this was the manufacturing sector and manufacturing represents only about 12% of the US economy, but still, it was a rout. The juxtaposition with the green shoots from Europe was not lost on the FX market either as the dollar fell sharply across the board. In fact, the euro had its best day since early September, rallying 0.6%.

This morning, the situation hasn’t improved either, as one of the other key bullish stories for equity sentiment, completion of the phase one trade deal with China, was dealt a blow when President Trump explained that he was in no hurry to complete the deal and would only do so when he was ready. In fact, he mused that it might be better to wait until after the 2020 elections before agreeing a deal with China, something that is clearly not priced into the market. When those comments hit the tape, US equity futures turned around from small gains to losses on the order of 0.3%. Bullishness is no fun yet.

Perhaps it’s worth a few moments to consider the essence of the bullish US case and determine if it still holds water. Basically, the broad consensus has been that despite its sluggish pace, growth in the US has been more robust than anywhere else in the developed world and that with the FOMC having added additional stimulus via 75 bps of interest rate cuts and, to date, $340 billion in non-QE QE, prospects for continued solid growth seemed strong. In addition, the tantalizing proximity of that phase one trade deal, which many had assumed would be done by now or certainly by year end, and would include a reduction in some tariffs, was seen as a turbocharger to add to the growth story.

Now, there is no doubt that we have seen some very positive data from the US, with Q3 GDP being revised higher, the housing market showing some life and Retail Sales still solid. In fact, last week’s data releases were uniformly positive. At the same time, the story from Europe, the UK, China and most of the rest of the world was of slowing or non-existent growth with central banks having run out of ammunition to help support those economies and a protracted period of subpar growth on the horizon. With this as a backdrop, it is no surprise that US assets performed well, and that the dollar was a key beneficiary.

However, if that narrative is going to change, then there is a lot of price adjustment likely to be seen in the markets, which arguably are priced for perfection on the equity side. The real question in the FX markets is, at what point will a risk-off scenario driven by US weakness convert from selling US assets, and dollars by extension, to buying US dollars in order to buy US Treasuries in a flight to safety? (There is a great irony in the fact that even when the US is the source of risk and uncertainty, investors seek the safety of US Treasury assets.) At this point, there is no way to know the answer to that question, however, what remains clear this morning is that we are still in the sell USD phase of the process.

With that in mind, let’s look at the various currency markets. Starting with the G10, Aussie is one of the winners after the RBA left rates on hold, as widely expected, but sounded less dovish (“global risks have lessened”) than anticipated in their accompanying statement. Aussie responded by rallying as much as 0.65% initially, and is still higher by 0.35% on the day. And that is adding to yesterday’s 0.85% gain taking the currency higher by 1.2% since the beginning of the week. While the longer term trend remains lower, it would not be a surprise to see a push toward 0.70 in the next week or so.

The other major winner this morning is the British pound, currently trading about 0.4% higher after the latest election poll, by Kantar, showed the Tories with a 12 point lead with just nine days left. Adding to the positive vibe was a modestly better than expected Construction PMI (45.3 vs. 44.5 expected) perhaps implying that the worst is over.

Elsewhere in the G10, things have been far less interesting with the euro maintaining, but not adding to yesterday’s gains, and most other currencies +/- a few bps on the day. In the EMG bloc, the noteworthy currency is the South African rand, which has fallen 0.55% after a much worse than expected Q3 GDP release (-0.6% Q/Q; 0.1% Y/Y). The other two losing currencies this morning are KRW and CNY, both of which have suffered on the back of the Trump trade comments. On the plus side, BRL has rallied 0.4% after its Q3 GDP release was better than expected at +0.6% Q/Q. At least these moves all make sense with economic fundamentals seeming to be today’s driver.

And that’s really it for the day. There is no US data this morning, although we get plenty the rest of the week culminating in Friday’s payroll report. Given the lack of economic catalysts, it feels like the dollar will remain under general pressure for the time being. The short term narrative is that things in the US are not as good as previously had been thought which is likely to weigh on the buck. But for receivables hedgers, this is an opportunity to add to your hedges at better levels in quiet markets. Take advantage!

Good luck
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The Senate’s Blackball

Near China, an island quite small
Has led to the latest downfall
In equity prices
Because of their crisis
As well as the Senate’s blackball

Risk is decidedly off this morning as equity markets around the world are under pressure and bond markets rally strongly. Adding to the mix is a stronger dollar and Japanese yen as well as an uptick in gold prices. The proximate cause of this angst was the unanimous voice vote in the Senate last night to pass legislation requiring an annual review of Hong Kong’s special trade status with the US, something that was heretofore permanently granted in 1992. The new legislation requires Hong Kong to remain “sufficiently autonomous” in order to maintain that status, which is arguably quite a nebulous phrase. Nonetheless, the Chinese response was immediate, threatening unspecified retaliation if the bill becomes law and calling it illegal and an intrusion in domestic Chinese affairs. While the bill must still be reconciled with a similar House version, that seems likely to be fairly easy. The real question is how the president will manage the situation given the fragility of the ongoing trade talks. Thus far, he has not made his views known, but they would appear to be in sympathy with the legislation. And given the unanimity of voting in both chambers, even a presidential veto would likely be overturned.

Given this turn of events, it should be no surprise that risk is under pressure this morning. After all, the promise of a trade deal has been supporting equity and other risk markets for the past six weeks. This is the first thing that could clearly be seen to cause a complete breakdown in the discussions. And if the trade negotiations go into hibernation, you can be sure that risk assets have much further to fall. You can also be sure that the developing narrative that European weakness is bottoming will also disappear, as any increase in US tariffs, something that is still scheduled for the middle of next month, would deal a devastating blow to any nascent recovery in Europe, especially Germany. The point is, until yesterday, the trade story was seen as a positive catalyst for risk assets. Its potential unwinding will be seen as a clear negative with all the risk-off consequences that one would expect.

Beyond the newly fraught trade situation, other market movers include, as usual, Brexit and the Fed. In the case of the former, last night saw a debate between PM Johnson and Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn where Boris focused on reelection and conclusion of the Brexit deal he renegotiated. Meanwhile, Jeremy asked for support so that he could renegotiate, yet again, the deal and then put the results to a referendum in six months’ time. The snap polls after the debate called it a draw, but the overall polls continue to favor Boris and the Tories. However, the outcome was enough to unnerve Sterling traders who pushed the pound lower all day yesterday and have continued the process today such that we are currently 0.6% below yesterday’s highs at 1.2970. It seems pretty clear that in the event of an upset victory by Corbyn, the pound would take a tumble, at least initially. Investors will definitely run from a country with a government promising a wave of nationalization of private assets. Remember what happened in Brazil when Lula was elected, Mexico with AMLO and Argentina with Fernandez a few months ago. This would be no different, although perhaps not quite as dramatic.

As to the Fed, all eyes today are on the release of the FOMC Minutes from the November meeting where they cut rates by 25bps and essentially told us that was the end of the ‘mid-cycle adjustment’. And, since then, we have heard from a plethora of Fed speakers, all explaining that they were comfortable with the current rate situation relative to the economy’s status, and that while they will respond if necessary to any weakening, they don’t believe that is a concern in the near or medium term. In fact, given how much we have heard from Fed speakers recently, it is hard to believe that the Minutes will matter at all.

So reviewing market activity, G10 currencies are all lower, save the yen, which is basically unchanged. The weakest link is NOK, which is suffering on the combination of risk aversion and weak oil prices (+0.4% today but -4.0% this week). But the weakness is solid elsewhere, between 0.2% and 0.5%. In the EMG bloc, CLP is once again leading the way lower, down 1.0% this morning after a 2.0% decline yesterday, with spot pushing back toward that psychological 800 level (currently 795). But pretty much every other currency in the bloc is lower as well, somewhere between 0.2% and 0.4%, with just a few scattered currencies essentially unchanged on the day.

And that really describes what we have seen thus far today. With only the FOMC Minutes on the docket, and no other Fed speakers, my take is the FX market will take its cues from the broader risk sentiment, and the dollar is in a position to reverse its losses of the past week. Barring a shocking change of view by Congress, look for a test of 1.10 in the euro by the end of the week.

Good luck
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Decidedly Slowed

In China they’ve reached a crossroad
As growth has decidedly slowed
The knock-on effects
Are not too complex
Watch markets, emerging, erode

Once again, the overnight data has disappointed with signs of further slowing in the global economy rampant. The headline was in China, where their big three data points; Fixed Asset Investment (5.2%), Industrial Production (4.7%) and Retail Sales (7.2%) all missed expectations badly. In fact, all of these are at or near historic low levels. But it was not just the Chinese who exposed economic malaise. Japanese GDP printed at just 0.2% in Q3, well below the expected 0.9% outcome. And how about Unemployment in Australia, which ticked higher to 5.3%, adding to concern over the economy Down Under and driving an increase in bets that the RBA will cut rates again next month. In fact, throughout Asia, all the data was worse than expected and that has had a negative impact on equity markets as well as most commodity markets.

Of course, adding to the economic concern are the ongoing protests in Hong Kong, which seemed to take a giant step forward (backward?) with more injuries, more disruption and the resulting closure of schools and work districts. Rumors of a curfew, or even intervention by China’s armed forces are just adding to the worries. It should be no surprise that we have seen a risk off attitude in these markets as equity prices fell (Nikkei -0.75%, Hang Seng -0.95%) while bonds rallied (Treasuries -5bps, JGB’s -3bps, Australian Treasuries -10bps), and currencies performed as expected with AUD -0.75% and JPY +0.3%. Classic risk-off.

Turning to Europe, Germany managed to avoid a technical recession, surprising one and all by releasing Q3 GDP at +0.1% although they did revise Q2 lower to -0.2%. While that is arguably good news, 0.4% annual growth in Germany is not nearly enough to support the Eurozone economy overall. And the bigger concern is that the ongoing manufacturing slump, which shows, at best, slight signs of stabilizing, but no signs of rebounding, will start to ooze into the rest of the data picture, weakening domestic activity throughout Germany and by extension throughout the entire continent.

The UK did nothing to help the situation with Retail Sales falling 0.3%, well below the expected 0.2% rise. It seems that the ongoing Brexit saga and upcoming election continue to weigh on the UK economy at this point. While none of this has helped the pound much, it is lower by 0.1% as I type, it has not had much impact overall. At this point, the election outcome remains the dominant story there. Along those lines, Nigel Farage has disappointed Boris by saying his Brexit party candidates will stand in all constituencies that are currently held by Labour. The problem for Boris is that this could well split the Tory vote and allow Labour to retain those seats even if a majority of voters are looking for Brexit to be completed. We are still four weeks away from the election, and the polls still give Boris a solid lead, 40% to 29% over Labour, but a great deal can happen between now and then. In other words, while I still expect a Tory victory and Parliament to pass the renegotiated Brexit deal, it is not a slam dunk.

Finally, it would not be appropriate to ignore Chairman Powell, who yesterday testified to a joint committee of Congress about the economy and the current Fed stance. It cannot be a surprise that he repeated the recent Fed mantra of; the economy is in a good place, monetary policy is appropriate, and if things change the Fed will do everything in its power to support the ongoing expansion. He paid lip service to the worries over the trade talks and Brexit and global unrest, but basically, he spent a lot of time patting himself on the back. At this point, the market has completely removed any expectations for a rate cut in December, and, in fact, based on the Fed funds futures market, there isn’t even a 50% probability of a cut priced in before next June.

The interesting thing about the fact that the Fed is clearly on hold for the time being is the coincident fact that the equity markets in the US continue to trade at or near record highs. Given the fact that earnings data has been flattish at best, there seems to be a disconnect between pricing in equity markets and in interest rate markets. While I am not forecasting an equity correction imminently, at some point those two markets need to resolve their differences. Beware.

Yesterday’s CPI data was interesting as core was softer than expected at 2.3% on the back of reduced rent rises, while headline responded to higher oil prices last month and was higher than expected at 1.8%. As to this morning, PPI (exp 0.3%, 0.2% core) and Initial Claims (215K) is all we get, neither of which should move the needle. Meanwhile, Chairman Powell testifies to the House Budget Committee and seven more Fed speakers will be at a microphone as well. But given all we have heard, it beggar’s belief any of them will change from the current tune of everything is good and policy is in the right place.

As to the dollar, it is marginally higher overall this morning, and has been trading that way for the past several sessions but shows no signs of breaking out. Instead, I expect that we will continue to push toward the top end of its recent trading range, and stall lacking impetus for the next leg in its movement. For that, we will need either a breakthrough or breakdown in the trade situation, or a sudden change in the data story. As long as things continue to show decent US economic activity, the dollar seems likely to continue its slow grind higher.

Good luck
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Dying To See

Said Trump, it’s not me it’s the Fed
Preventing us moving ahead
While China and Xi
Are dying to see
A deal where all tariffs are dead

It should be no surprise that President Trump was at the center of the action yesterday, that is the place he most covets. In a speech at the Economic Club of New York, he discussed pretty much what we all expected; the economy is doing great (low unemployment, low inflation and solid growth); the Fed is holding the economy back from doing even better (give us negative rates like Europe and Japan, we deserve it) and the Chinese are dying to do a deal but the US is not going to cave in and remove tariffs without ironclad assurances that the Chinese will stop their bad behavior. After all, this has been the essence of his economically focused comments for the past year. Why would they change now? But a funny thing happened yesterday, the market did not embrace all this is good news, and we started to see a little bit of risk aversion seeping into equity prices and filter down to the bond and currency markets.

For example, although the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed yesterday just 0.3% from the all-time high set last Thursday, there has been no follow-through in markets elsewhere in the world, and, in fact, US futures are pointing lower. Now arguably, this is not entirely a result of Trump’s comments, after all there are plenty of problems elsewhere in the world. But global markets have proven to be quite vulnerable to the perception of bad news on the US-China trade negotiations front, and the fact that there is no deal clearly set to be signed is weighing on investors’ collective minds. So last night, we saw Asian markets suffer (Nikkei -0.85%, Hang Seng -1.8%, KOSPI -0.85%, Shanghai -0.35%) and this morning European markets are also under pressure (DAX -0.75%, CAC -0.45%, FTSE -0.55%, Spain’s IBEX -1.65%, Italy’s MIB -1.3%). In other words, things look pretty bad worldwide, at least from a risk perspective.

Now some of this is idiosyncratic, like Hong Kong, where the protests are becoming more violent and more entrenched and have demonstrably had a negative impact on the local economy. Of even more concern is the growing possibility that China decides to intervene directly to quell the situation, something that would likely have significant negative consequences for global markets. Too, Germany is sliding into recession (we will get confirmation with tomorrow’s Q3 GDP release) and so the engine of Europe is slowing growth throughout the EU, and the Eurozone in particular. And we cannot forget Spain, where the fourth election in four years did nothing to bring people together, and where the Socialist Party is desperately trying to cobble together a coalition to get back in power, but cannot find enough partners, even though they have begun to climb down from initial comments about certain other parties, namely Podemos, and consider them. The point is, President Trump is not the only reason that investors have become a bit skeptical about the future.

In global bond markets, we are also seeing risk aversion manifest itself, notably this morning with 10-year Treasury yields falling more than 6bps, and other havens like Bunds (-4bps) and Gilts (-5bps) following suit. There has been a great deal of ink spilled over the recent bond market price action with two factions completely at odds. There continue to be a large number of pundits and investors who see the long-term trend of interest rates still heading lower and see the recent pullback in bond prices as a great opportunity to add to their long bond positions. Similarly, there is a growing contingent who believe that we have seen the lows in yields, that inflation is beginning to percolate higher and that 10-year yields above 3.00% are going to be the reality over the course of the next year. This tension is evident when one looks at the price action where since early September, we have seen a 40bp yield rally followed by a 35bp decline in the span of five weeks. Since then, we have recouped all the losses, and then some, although we continue to see weeks where there are 15bp movements, something that is historically quite unusual. Remember, bonds have historically been a dull trading vehicle, with very limited price activity and interest generated solely for their interest-bearing qualities. These days, they are more volatile than stocks! And today, there is significant demand, indicating risk aversion is high.

Finally, the dollar continues to benefit against most of its counterparts in both the G10 and EMG blocs, at least since I last wrote on Friday. In fact, there are four G10 currencies that have performed well since then, each with a very valid reason. First, given risk aversion, it should be no surprise that both the yen and Swiss franc have strengthened in this period. Looking further, the pound got a major fillip yesterday when Nigel Farage said that his Brexit party would not contest any of the 317 seats the Tories held going into the election, thus seeming to give a boost to Boris Johnson’s electoral plans, and therefore a boost toward the end of the Brexit saga with a deal in hand. Finally, last night the RBNZ surprised almost the entire market by leaving rates on hold at 1.0%, rather than cutting 25bps as had been widely expected. The reaction was immediate with kiwi jumping 1.0% and yields in New Zealand rallying between 10 and 15 bps across the curve.

Turning to the Emerging markets, the big mover has been, of course, the Chilean peso, the erstwhile star of LATAM which has fallen more than 5.0% since Friday in the wake of the government’s decision to change the constitution in an effort to address the ongoing social unrest. But this has dragged the rest of the currencies in the region down as well, with Colombia (-2%) and Mexico (-1.7%) also feeling the effects of this action. The removal of Peruvian president, Evo Morales, has further undermined the concept of democracy in the region, and investors are turning tail pretty quickly. Meanwhile, APAC currencies have also broadly suffered, with India’s rupee the worst performer in the bunch, down 1.1% since Friday, as concerns about slowing growth there are combining with higher than expected inflation to form a terrible mix. But most of the region is under pressure due to the ongoing growth and trade concerns, with KRW (-0.9%) and PHP (-0.7%) also feeling strains on the trade story. The story is no different in EEMEA, with the bulk of the bloc lower by between 0.5% and 0.85% during the timeframe in question.

Turning to this morning, we see our first important data of the week, CPI (exp 0.3%, 0.2% core) for the month and (1.7%, 2.4% core) on an annual basis. But perhaps more importantly Chairman Powell speaks to Congress today, and everybody is trying to figure out what it is he is going to say. Most pundits believe he is going to try to maintain the message from the FOMC meeting, and one that has been reinforced constantly by his minions on the committee, namely that the economy is in a good place, that rates are appropriately set and that they will respond if they deem it necessary. And really, what else can he say?

However, overall, risk remains on the back foot today, and unless Powell is suddenly very dovish, I expect that to remain the case. As such, look for the dollar to continue to edge higher in the short term, as well as the yen, the Swiss franc and Treasuries.

Good luck
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What Exactly Comes Next?

Though Boris did garner a win
Another act’s caused him chagrin
The latest delay
Has kept the UK
Adrift ‘midst an increasing din

The question that has markets vexed
Is just what exactly comes next?
Elections? Could be
And likely a plea
To quantify Brexit’s effects

Brexit noun
brē·gzit

Definition of Brexit
“It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Clearly, William Shakespeare was a man ahead of his time! The Brexit saga continues although it seems to have turned from drama to comedy. However, that is far better than the tragedy that could have come about in the event of a no-deal outcome. At this point, it seems the most likely outcome will be another three-month delay, with January 31st mooted as the target now, to allow the UK to finally (?) solve their internal dilemma. Yesterday’s activity saw Boris win the first vote, which means that he had sufficient support, in principal, for the deal he renegotiated with the EU. However, his attempt to force the second and third readings to occur today and tomorrow such that a final vote could be held was thwarted. Thus, while Parliament has approved what he has done, and that occurred despite lacking DUP support, they want more time to ponder the bill, and likely lard it with amendments for each group’s individual constituencies. Thus, the discussion now is the EU will grant a flexible delay, meaning January 31 is the target, but that if the UK can solve their internal arguments sooner, the date would be moved up.

While I continue to believe that this has played into Boris’s strength, and that any election will see him re-elected with a thumping majority, that remains unclear. But what is clear is that the FX market has adjusted its views on the potential outcomes. At this point I would suggest there are three possible results; a no-deal Brexit; passage of the current deal; or a vote and then new referendum which leads to a Remain victory and no Brexit at all. If we assume the following movements are realistic outcomes:

No-deal => 1.10
Current deal => 1.30-1.35
Remain => 1.45

Then the market has reduced the probability of a no-deal to just 15%, which is substantially lower than what had certainly been at least a 50% probability just a few weeks ago, while the probability of the deal being enacted has risen to nearly 80%, and a Remain outcome just 5%. While hardly scientific, this is one possible explanation for the current level, as well as a possible view of where the pound can go given those three end results. Don’t forget the salt!

A quick look at the pound this morning shows that it has fallen ever so slightly from yesterday’s closing level, just 0.1%, and that it remains quite volatile within its current trading range. My view is that an extension and a successful call for an election will lead to further cable strength as it will reduce the probability of a no-deal outcome even further. In fact, we could well see a growing view that a second referendum will be held and most recent polls seem to imply no Brexit at all. In that event, I think the pound can go much higher, at least until the market starts to pay closer attention to the entire EU’s deteriorating economic fundamentals and the reality that investment inflow is going to be lacking, while outflows pick up. Ultimately, I continue to see the dollar performing well, but for the pound, we may need a reset of the base level given everything that has occurred.

Turning to the rest of the G10 space, the dollar is firmer vs. 9 of them with only the yen holding up today. However, the magnitude of that strength has been extremely modest, averaging about 0.1%. In other words, not much is happening. The same is largely true in the EMG bloc, although the biggest gainer has been TRY with traders shaking off the ongoing Kurdish fighting and seemingly responding to an improvement in Consumer Confidence there. On the negative side, ZAR is under the gun today, down 0.8%, after lower than expected CPI readings (4.1%, 4.0% core) indicated that the SARB will be less aggressive tightening monetary policy, or perhaps, more aggressive loosening it.

In fact, today has all the hallmarks of a modest risk-off session as we have seen both Treasury and Bund yields slip about 3bps, gold prices rise 0.35% and equity markets come under pressure after earnings data has shown at least as many disappointments as beats. As I type, US futures are lower by 0.3% while there is weakness in the CAC (-0.6%) and both Italian and Spanish markets, and the DAX is the outperformer at unchanged on the day.

On the data front, yesterday’s Home Sales were mildly disappointing, falling a more than expected 2.2%, and there is nothing of real note this morning. That points to a day where absent a tweet from the White House, or a significant change in the Brexit debate in Parliament, FX will take its cues from the equity market and the ongoing earnings releases. The better the earnings, the more likely that risk will make a comeback and the dollar drift lower. The reverse is also true. But in the end, we are all beholden to other catalysts while we await next week’s FOMC meeting.

Good luck
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Lost Their Zeal

While yesterday Brexit seemed real
As both sides looked close to a deal
This morning we hear
A deal’s not so near
As Ireland’s North lost their zeal

Meanwhile from the Far East, the news
Is that China just might refuse
To buy pork and grain
Unless we refrain
From publicly airing our views

While the same two stories remain atop the leaderboard, the score has clearly changed. This morning, much of yesterday’s Brexit optimism has dissipated as the DUP, Boris Johnson’s key Northern Irish ally in Parliament, explained they could not support the deal that Johnson has been furiously negotiating over the past few days. Remember, DUP stands for Democratic Unionist Party, and the Union of which they speak is that of Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. As such, they cannot countenance the idea of a soft border in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. They want to be treated exactly the same. At the same time, they don’t want a hard border between themselves and the Republic of Ireland, so it seems that they are the ones that need to make up their collective mind. As time is very clearly running out, the conversation has reached a very delicate phase. Remember, the Benn Act requires PM Johnson to request an extension by this Saturday if there is no deal agreed, and of course, Boris has said he “would rather be dead in a ditch” than request such an extension.

From what I have read, it appears that the soft border would be time limited, and so in the end, I think the pressure on the DUP will be too great to bear and they will cave in. After all, they also don’t want to be the ones responsible for the failure of reaching a deal. The pound, after having traded as high as 1.2800 yesterday, has been extremely volatile this morning, trading in a more than 1.0% range and having touched both the highs at 1.2790 and the lows near 1.2660 twice each. As I write, the pound is lower by 0.3% on the day, but at this point, it is entirely headline driven. The one thing that is clear is that many of the short positions that had been built up over the past year have been reduced or eliminated completely.

Turning to China, the story is about Beijing’s anger over two bills passed by the House of Representatives in support of the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. The Chinese are adamant that anything that happens in Hong Kong is a domestic affair and that everybody else, especially the US, should keep their noses out of the discussion. In fairness, it is a Chinese territory legally, unlike the situation in Taiwan where they claim ‘ownership’ with less of a legal claim. Nonetheless, they are quite serious and are threatening retaliation if any law addressing Hong Kong is passed by the US. Now a bill passing the House is a far cry from enacting a law, but this does seem to be something where there is bipartisan support. Remember, too, that the standoff with China is one of the few things where the Democrats and President Trump see eye to eye.

At the same time, somewhat behind the scenes, the PBOC injected CNY 200 billion into its money markets last night, surprising everyone, as a measure of further policy ease. Thursday night the Chinese will release their Q2 GDP data and while the median forecast is for a 6.1% annualized outcome, there are a number of forecasts with a 5 handle. That would be the slowest GDP growth since at least 1992 when records started to be kept there. At any rate, the cash injection helped weaken the renminbi with CNY falling 0.3% in the overnight session. One thing to remember here is that part of the ostensible trade deal is the currency pact, but if that deal falls apart because of the Hong Kong issue, it opens the door for CNY to weaken a bit more.

It ought not be surprising that the change in tone on those two stories has dampened overall market enthusiasm and this morning can clearly be described as a risk-off session. In the G10, the dollar is stronger against everything except the yen and Swiss franc (both higher by 0.1%). In fact, both NOK (-0.9%) and NZD (-0.7%) lead the way lower with the former responding to oil’s ongoing weakness as well as the potential negative impact of a hard Brexit. Meanwhile, the kiwi has suffered after the RBNZ reiterated that lower rates were likely still in store despite CPI printing a tick higher than expected last night at 1.5%.

In the EMG space, things have been less dramatic with ZAR today’s weakest component, falling 0.5% after news that the troubled utility, Eskom, will be forced to create rolling blackouts, further highlighting its tenuous financial position and putting more pressure on the government to do something (read spend money they don’t have) to fix things. Without a solution to this issue, which has been hanging over the economy for several years, look for the rand to continue its broad move lower. While at 14.97, it is well off the lows seen in August, the trend remains for the rand to continue falling. Otherwise, this space has been far less interesting with KRW dipping just 0.25% overnight after the BOK cut rates by 25bps. The thing is, comments from BOK members indicated a reluctance to cut rates much further, thus limiting the downward movement.

This morning brings us Retail Sales (exp 0.3%; -ex autos 0.2%) and Business Inventories (0.2%). Then, at 2:00 the Fed’s Beige Book is released with analysts set to look for clues about economic activity to drive the Fed’s next activity. We also hear from three Fed speakers, Evans, Kaplan and Brainard, who all lean to the dovish side of the spectrum. With European equities under pressure and US futures pointing lower, it seems that risk will remain out of favor, unless there is a change of heart in the UK. But for now, think risk-off as a guide to today’s activity.

Good luck
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The UK Wants to Shun

This morning as part of his plan
For Brexit, the PM began
A series of talks,
Before Britain walks,
With Angela as middleman

Alas, when the phone call was done
The odds of a deal approached none
The EU made clear
The (Northern) Irish adhere
To rules the UK wants to shun

The pound is suffering this morning, down 0.5%, after news that a phone call between Boris and Angela resulted in Johnson explaining that a Brexit deal is “essentially impossible” at the current time. If you recall, Boris’s plan was for Northern Ireland to adhere to EU rules on manufactured goods and agricultural products while customs activities would take place a number of miles from the actual border. Finally, Northern Ireland would be allowed to vote every four years to determine if they were happy with that situation. The EU view is that Northern Ireland must remain a part of the customs union in perpetuity, something that would essentially split them from the rest of the UK. It is no surprise that both Boris and Northern Ireland rejected that outcome, and so the Johnson government has increased preparations for a hard Brexit.

There are two interesting tidbits ongoing as well, both of which bode ill for a deal. First is that Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is terrified that he and his nation will be blamed if no deal is reached. And when I say terrified, it means that he is afraid that a no-deal Brexit will result in a significant (~5%) hit to Ireland’s economy and that he will be tossed from office because of that. Remember, every politician’s number one priority during any situation is to be reelected, hence his terror. His response has to increase the rhetoric about how Boris is the problem, further poisoning the well. The second interesting thing is that a survey in the EU by Kantar (a European polling company) showed that between 47% and 66% of citizens in six EU nations (France, Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland, Spain and Poland) believe the EU should not extend the Brexit deadline, with a solid majority in all nations except the Netherlands. Perhaps Boris will get his wish that Europe won’t offer an extension or agree to one if asked. It appears that this saga is reaching its denouement. And despite all of this, I continue to see a strong possibility that the EU blinks as they figure out Boris is serious. My impression is that Merkel and the EU continue to believe that the UK will come begging, hat in hand, for another extension and that a new vote will lead to the end of this process with the UK revoking Article 50. And so they continue to believe they are dealing from a position of strength. We shall see.

Of course, the reason we care so much about this is not just for the impact on the British pound, but actually the impact on the global economy. Consider that the global economy has been slowing steadily for the past eighteen months under pressure from the ongoing trade war between the US and China and the uncertainty that has engendered. If the estimates of the economic impact of a hard Brexit are even halfway correct, we are looking at a sharp decline in economic activity in the UK, Ireland, Germany, France and the Netherlands, ranging between 0.5% and 5.0%. I assure you that will not help the global growth situation. It will also result in immediate additional policy ease by the world’s central banks, notably the Fed. The impact on equity markets will be significant, bond markets will rally sharply as will haven currencies. In other words, it could easily be the catalyst required to bring on that recession on the horizon.

Beyond Brexit, the other big story overnight was on trade as the US put 28 Chinese firms on an export blacklist under the guise of those companies helping in repression of Muslim minorities in northwest China. Not surprisingly, the Chinese were not amused and ‘instructed’ the US to correct its mistake. They also told the world to “stay tuned” for any retaliation that will be forthcoming. Fortunately, this has not changed the plans for the trade talks to be held on Thursday and Friday in Washington with Vice-premier Liu He, at least not yet. But that remains a huge concern, that He will not make the trip and that the trade impasse will harden. At this point it has become pretty clear that a big trade deal is not in the offing. The Chinese appear to be betting that President Trump will lose the election and so are waiting him out. However, this is the one area where the President truly has bipartisan support so it is not clear to me that a President Warren, Biden or Sanders would be any more inclined to come to an agreement that didn’t meet hurdles regarding IP theft and state subsidies.

The combination of these two events has served to undermine equity markets in Europe with virtually every major index having fallen by more than 1% this morning. While Asian equity markets performed well (Nikkei +1.0%, KOSPI +1.2%, Shanghai +0.25%) that was before the Boris-Angela call. US futures have turned lower in the past hour with all three exchanges now pointing to 0.5% declines on the opening. Meanwhile, Treasury yields continue to fall with the 10-year at 1.52%, down 4bps and Bunds are following with yields there down 1.5bps.
As to the dollar, it is no surprise the yen (+0.4%) and Swiss franc (+0.35%) have rallied, but a bit more surprising that aside from the pound, most other G10 currencies are firmer. That said, the movement has not been that large and if we see a true risk-off session in the US, I would expect the dollar to strengthen. In the EMG space, ZAR is the biggest loser today, falling 0.65%, after Renaissance Capital put out a report that the country’s debt would be downgraded to junk status next month. Given their recent track record, correctly calling 8 of the past 9 ratings moves, it is being given some credence. After that, RUB has fallen 0.5% on the back or weaker oil prices, which are down 1.3% this morning and more than 11% from before the attack on the Saudi oil facility in the middle of September.

As to data today, NFIB was already released at a slightly weaker than expected 101.8. While that remains at the high end of its historic readings, it is clear that this series has rolled over and is heading lower. We also get PPI (exp 1.8%, 2.3% ex food & energy) at 8:30 but most folks ignore that and are looking for CPI on Thursday. Chairman Powell speaks again today at 2:30 this afternoon, so all eyes will be focused on Denver to see how he responds to the most recent gyrations in the big stories.

Overall, it feels like a day of uncertainty and risk reduction. Look for further yen and Swiss franc strength as well as for the dollar to regain its footing against the rest of its counterparts.

Good luck
Adf