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
Adf

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

Not a Chance

From Germany and, too, from France
We saw the economy’s stance
Their prospects are dire
And though they aspire
To growth, it seems they’ve not a chance

Surveying the markets this morning, the theme seems to be that the growth scare continues to be real. PMI data from Europe was MUCH worse than expected across the board, with Services suffering as well as the manufacturing data which has been weak for quite a while already. This is how things stacked up:

Event Expectations Release
German Manufacturing PMI 44.0 41.4
Services PMI 54.3 52.5
Composite PMI 51.5 49.1
French Manufacturing PMI 51.2 50.3
Services PMI 53.2 51.6
Composite PMI 52.6 51.3

Source: Bloomberg

Anybody that claims Germany is not in recession is just not paying attention. Friday evening, the Bundestag agreed to a new €54 billion bill to address climate change, which some are looking at as an economic stimulus as well. However, a stimulus bill would need to create short term government spending, and the nature of this bill is decidedly longer term in nature. And a bigger problem is the German unwillingness to run a budget deficit means that if they put this in place, it will restrict their ability to add any stimulus on a more timely basis. It also appears that the ECB and IMF will continue to call them out for their austere views, but thus far, the German people are completely backing the government on this issue. Perhaps when the recession is in fuller flower, der mann on der strasse will be more willing for the government to borrow money to spend.

It ought not be that surprising that European equity markets suffered after the release with the DAX down a solid 1.2% and CAC -1.0% with the bulk of the move coming in the wake of the releases. This paring of risk also resulted in a rally in Bunds (-6bps), OATS (-3bps) and Treasuries (-3bps) while the dollar rallied (EUR -0.4%, GBP -0.3%).

But I think this begs the question of whether or not a recession is going to be solely a European phenomenon or if the US is going to crash that party. What we have learned in the past two weeks is that the ECB is basically spent, and that the market’s review of their newest policy mix was two thumbs down. Ironically, Draghi’s clear attempts to weaken the euro are now being helped by the significantly weaker than expected Eurozone data that he’s trying to fix. Apparently, you can’t have it both ways. Much to his chagrin, however, I believe that there is plenty more downside for the euro as the Eurozone economy continues its slow descent into stagnation. When Madame Lagarde takes over on November 1st, she will have an empty cupboard of tools to address the economy and will be forced to rely on verbal suasion. I expect that we will hear from the Mandame quite frequently as she tries to change the narrative. I also expect that her efforts will do very little, especially if China continues to falter.

Away from the weak European data, there was not that much else of interest. Friday, if you recall, the US equity markets suffered after the low-level Chinese trade delegation canceled a trip to Montana and Nebraska as the perception was the talks broke down. It turns out, however, that the request came from the US for other reasons, and that the talks, by all accounts, went quite well. At this point, the market is now looking forward to Chinese Vice-Premier, Liu He, coming to Washington on October 10, so barring any further tweets on the subject that topic may well slip to the back burner.

Brexit was also in the news as Boris makes his way to NY for the UN session this week He has scheduled meetings with all the key players from Europe including Chancellor Merkel, President Macron and Taoiseach Varadkar. At the same time, the Labour party’s conference is in disarray as leader Jeremy Corbyn wants to campaign on a second referendum but will not definitively back Remain. In other words, it’s not just the Tories who are split over Brexit, it is both parties. And don’t forget, we are awaiting the UK Supreme Court’s decision on the legality of Boris’ move to prorogue parliament for five weeks, which could come any day this week. In the end, the pound is still completely beholden to Brexit, so look for a Supreme Court ruling against the government to result in a rally in the pound as it will be perceived as lowering the probability of a no-deal Brexit. Again, my view remains that at the EU summit in the middle of next month, there will be an announcement of a breakthrough of some sort to fudge the Irish backstop and that the pound will rally sharply on the news.

Looking ahead to this week, we have a fair amount of new information as well as a host of Fed speakers:

Tuesday Case-Shiller House Prices 2.90%
  Consumer Confidence 133.3
Wednesday New Home Sales 656K
Thursday Q2 GDP (2ndrevision) 2.0%
  Initial Claims 211K
Friday Personal Income 0.4%
  Personal Spending 0.3%
  Durable Goods -1.1%
  -ex transportation 0.2%
  Core PCE Deflator 0.2% (1.8% Y/Y)
  Michigan Sentiment 92.0

Source: Bloomberg

We also hear from 11 different Fed speakers this week, two of them twice! At this point I expect they will be working hard to get their individual viewpoints across which should actually help us better understand the mix of views on the board. So far we have a pretty good understanding of where Bullard, George and Rosengren stand, but none of them are speaking this week. This means we will get eleven entirely new viewpoints. And my take is that the general viewpoint is going to be unless the data really turns lower; there is no more cause to ease at this point. I don’t think the equity market will like that, nor the bond market, but the dollar is going to be a big beneficiary. The euro is back below 1.10 this morning. Look for it to continue lower as the week progresses.

Good luck
Adf

Calm’s Been Restored

Remarkably, though oil soared
Responding to Yemen, who roared
Most markets of note
Have taken a vote
And seen to it calm’s been restored

Of course the big news over the weekend was the attack on Saudi oil production by a number of unmanned drones on Saturday. It was quite successful, at least in terms of the attackers (Yemen’s Houthi rebels claimed responsibility) seeming goals, as it shut down half of Saudi production for an unspecified period. That means that 5% of the world’s oil production is off-line, although between reserves stored around the globe and the ability of US producers to ramp up production, the impact seems to be less substantial on world markets. Naturally oil prices are higher, with WTI currently +8.25%, although that is well off the initial highs which showed a 15% jump. And Treasury prices are higher as well, with the 10-year higher by half a point and yields falling 6.5bps. Gold is up 1.0%, and equity markets are softer, but not that much with only Italy’s market down even 1.0% and the rest of Europe lower by somewhere on the order of 0.6%. APAC stocks were also modestly softer, and US futures are pointing to a softer opening, but none of this speaks to any panic.

Finally, the dollar can only be described as mixed, at least at this point in the session. Granted, APAC currencies were mostly softer, led by INR’s 0.85% decline, which is directly attributed to the jump in oil prices (India imports virtually all their oil.) But that is actually the largest move on the day. Remember, in the wake of the ECB meeting last week, the euro rallied more than 1.0%! The point is, the FX market is not hugely concerned about this situation and seems unlikely to become so unless there are more attacks and the supply situation changes far more dramatically and permanently.

The only conclusion I can draw from this price action is that the market is still entirely focused on central bank activity with this week the culmination of a series of meetings. By Thursday, we will have heard from the Fed, the BOJ, the BOE, Bank Indonesia and the Norgesbank regarding any new policy actions. Expectations are as follows:

Wednesday FOMC Cut 0.25%
Thursday BOJ No rate change
  Bank Indonesia Cut 0.25%
  Norgesbank No rate change
  BOE No rate change

But in reality, the only one that matters is the Fed, which is driving the entire global conversation. If you recall, it was only a few weeks ago when expectations were rampant that they would cut 50bps. Treasury yields had fallen to 1.45% and there was a growing belief that recession was on its way. But then the US employment data was decent, Retail Sales were strong and CPI came in higher than expected for the third consecutive month. It became much harder with that economic backdrop for the doves to be squawking about adding stimulus aggressively. And remember, in July, there were already two dissensions, so the concept of unanimity has long been missing. At this point, the question is more about Chairman Powell’s press conference and whether or not he puts forth a dovish message. (Arguably, anything that is not outright dovish will be seen as hawkish by the market.)

While the Fed and ECB are clearly in different places, it is also important to remember that as much as the market is focused on the Fed, the same was true of the ECB right up until last week, when it became clear the ECB had run out of ammunition. It is every central banker’s greatest fear to find themselves with no ability to impact the market and push it in the direction they choose. My sense is that day is coming soon for many major central banks. Other than the ECB, it has not yet arrived, but trust me; it is coming sooner than you might think.

With all that in mind, the narrative has quickly moved beyond oil and is now back to discussing the FOMC meeting. Other than that, we have a bit of data, and after the meeting a number of Fed speakers.

Today Empire Manufacturing 4.0
Tuesday IP 0.2%
  Capacity Utilization 77.6%
Wednesday Housing Starts 1250K
  Building Permits 1300K
  FOMC Rate Decision 2.00% (-0.25%)
Thursday Initial Claims 213K
  Philly Fed 10.0
  Leading Indicators 0.1%
  Existing Home Sales 5.37M

So all in all, not too exciting. I would be remiss if I didn’t highlight that Chinese data overnight was uniformly awful, with the big three indicators; Retail Sales (7.5%), IP (4.4%), and Fixed Asset Investment (5.5%) all falling short of estimates and all reaching levels not seen since records began to be kept. And this was data from August, before the latest round of tariffs kicked in. Growth in China is slowing rapidly and the PBOC has not been able to adjust policy sufficiently to offset it. The renminbi weakened a bit, but in line with today’s general lack of movement, the 0.25% decline is hardly significant.

And that’s really all there is. The modest risk-off scenario seems likely to remain in place, but it is hard to see a significant extension of the overnight moves absent another catalyst. And right now, there is none on the horizon. Look for a dull day, with limited movement from the opening levels.

Good luck
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An Aura of Fear

An aura of fear’s been created
By actions both past and debated
Investors are scared
As they’re unprepared
Since models they’ve built are outdated

There is certainly more red than green on the screens this morning as the weekend brought us further complications across the board. The headline issue of note is the increased anxiety in Hong Kong as the ongoing protests spread to the airport forcing the cancelation of all flights there today, clearly a problem for a nation(?) that is dependent on international business and travel. President Xi is attempting to address this crisis with economic weapons rather than real ones, with the first shot fired by a state-owned company, China Huarong International Holdings Ltd, which instructed its employees to boycott Cathay Pacific Airways, the Hong Kong based airline. Given Hong Kong’s status as an open trading economy, it will have a great deal of difficulty handling boycotts from its major market.

Adding to the Chinese anxiety was word from the White House that September’s mooted trade talks may not happen at all as President Trump appears convinced that the Chinese need a deal more than the US does. As most of the escalation occurred late in the Asia day, the impact on markets there was more muted than might be expected. While it’s true the Hang Seng fell, -0.4%, Chinese stocks rallied as did Korea and India. At the same time, currency activity was less benign with the dollar continuing its strengthening pattern against most EMG currencies in APAC. For example, both INR and KRW are weaker by 0.55% this morning and the renminbi continues its measured decline, falling a further 0.1% with the dollar now trading above 7.10.

However, Europe has felt the brunt of the negative impact with early 1% rallies in equity markets there completely wiped out and both the DAX and CAC down by 0.4% as I type. Currency markets in Europe have also been less impacted with the euro edging just slightly lower, -0.1%, and the pound actually rallying 0.5% after Friday’s sharp sell-off.

But arguably, the real action has been in the bond market where Treasuries have rallied nearly a full point with the yield down 5bps to 1.68%. German bund yields are also lower, falling back to their record low of -0.59%. And adding to the risk-off feel has been the yen’s 0.5% rally, despite the fact that Japan was closed for Mountain Day, a national holiday. Finally, it wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t see pressure on US equity futures which are pointing to a 0.5% decline on the opening right now.

All told, I think it is fair to say that in the waning days of summer, risk is seen as a growing concern for investors. With that in mind, we do see some important data this week as follows:

Tuesday NFIB Small Biz 104.9
  CPI 0.3% (2.1% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.2% (1.7%Y/Y)
Thursday Initial Claims 214K
  Retail Sales 0.3%
  -ex autos 0.4%
  Empire State Mfg 2.75
  Philly Fed 10.0
  IP 0.1%
  Capacity Utilization 77.8%
  Business Inventories 0.1%
Friday Housing Starts 1.257M
  Building Permits 1.27M
  Michigan Sentiment 97.3

So, as you can see, Thursday is the big day, with a significant amount of data to be released. The ongoing conundrum of weakening manufacturing and still robust sales will, hopefully, be better explained afterwards, but my fear is as the global economy continues to suffer under the twin pressures of trade issues and declining inflation, that the path forward is lower, not higher.

In addition to this data, we see some important data from elsewhere in the world, notably Chinese IP (exp 5.8%) and Retail Sales (exp 8.6%) with both data points to be released Tuesday night and notably lower than last month’s results. It is abundantly clear that China is suffering a pretty major economic slowdown. The other noteworthy data point will be German Q2 GDP growth on Wednesday, currently forecast to be -0.1%, a serious issue for the continent and ample reason for the ECB to be more aggressive in their September meeting.

Wrapping it all up, there seems little reason for optimism in the near term as the key global issues, namely trade and growth, continue to falter. Central banks are also very obviously stretched to the limits of their abilities to smooth the process which means that unless there is a major change in governmental views on increased fiscal stimulation, slower growth is on the horizon. With it will come reduced risk and corresponding strength in haven assets like the yen, gold, Treasuries, Bunds and the dollar. While today offers no new information, these trends remain intact and show no signs of abating any time soon.

Good luck
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Potency Waning

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
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Demand, More, to Whet

In Asia three central banks met
And all three explained that the threat
Of trade tensions rising
Required revising
Their pathway, demand, more, to whet

The RBNZ cut rates 50bps last night, surprising markets and analysts, all of whom were expecting a 25bp rate cut. The rationale was weakening global growth and increased uncertainty over the escalation of the trade fight between the US and China were sufficient cause to attempt to get ahead of the problem. They seem to be following NY Fed President Williams’ dictum that when rates are low, cutting rates aggressively is the best central bank policy. It should be no surprise that the NZD fell sharply on the news, and this morning it is lower by 1.4% and back to levels not seen since the beginning of 2016.

The Bank of Thailand cut rates 25bps last night, surprising markets and analysts, none of whom were expecting any rate cut at all. The rationale was … (see bold type above). The initial FX move was for a 0.9% decline in THB, although it has since recouped two-thirds of those losses and currently sits just 0.3% lower than yesterday’s close. THB has been the best performing currency in Asia this year as the Thai economy has done a remarkable job of skating past many of the trade related problems affecting other nations there. However, the central bank indicated it would respond as necessary going forward, implying more rate cuts could come if deemed appropriate.

The RBI cut rates 35bps last night, surprising markets and analysts, most of whom were expecting a 25bp rate cut. The rationale was… (see bold type above). The accompanying policy statement was clearly dovish and indicted that future rate cuts are on the table if the economic path does not improve. However, this morning INR is actually stronger by 0.3% as there was a whiff of ‘buy the rumor, sell the news’ attached to this move. The rupee had already weakened 3% this week, so clearly market anticipation, if not analysts’ views, was for an even more dovish outcome.

These are not the last interest rate moves we are going to see, and we are going to see them from a widening group of central banks. You can be sure, given last night’s activity, that the Philippine central bank is going to be cutting rates when they meet this evening and now the question is, will they cut only the 25bps analysts are currently expecting, or will they take their cues from last night’s activity and cut 50bps to get ahead of the curve? Last night the peso fell 0.4% and is down 2.5% in the past week. It feels to me like the market is pricing in a bigger cut than 25bps. We shall see.

This central bank activity seems contra to the fact that equity markets are stabilizing quickly from Monday’s sell-off. The idea that because the PBOC didn’t allow another sharp move lower last night in the renminbi is an indication that there is no prospect for further weakness in the currency is ridiculous. (After all, CNY did fall 0.4% overnight). The global rate cutting cycle is starting to pick up steam, and as more central banks respond, it will force the others to do the same. The market has now priced in a 100% probability of a 25bp Fed cut at the September meeting. Comments from Fed members Daly and Bullard were explicit that the increased trade tensions have thrown a spanner into their models and that some preemption may be warranted.

A quick survey of government bond yields shows that Treasuries are down 4bps to 1.66%, new lows for the move; Bunds are down 5.5bps to -0.59% and a new historic low; while JGB’s are down 3bps to -0.21%, below the BOJ’s target of -0.2% / +0.2% for the first time since they instituted their yield curve control process. Bond investors and stock investors seem to have very different views of the world right now, but there are more markets aligning with bonds than stocks.

For instance, gold prices are up another 1% overnight, to $1500/oz, their highest in six years and show no sign of slowing down. Oil prices are down just 0.2% overnight, but more than 8% in the past week, as demand indicators decline more than offsetting production declines.

And of course, economic data continues to demonstrate the ongoing economic malaise globally. Early this morning, June German IP fell 1.5%, much worse than expected and from a downwardly revised May number, indicating even further weakness. It is becoming abundantly clear that the Eurozone is heading into a recession and that the ECB is going to be forced into aggressive action next month. Not only do I expect a 20bp rate cut, down to -0.60%, but I expect that QE is going to be restarted right away and expanded to include a larger portion of corporate bonds. And don’t rule out equities!

So, for now we are seeing simultaneous risk-on (equity rally) and risk-off (bond, gold, yen rallies) on our screens. The equity investor belief in the benefits of lower interest rates is quite strong, although I believe we are reaching a point where lower rates are not the solution to the problem. The problem is economic uncertainty due to changes in international trade relations, it is not a lack of access to capital. But lowering rates is all the central banks can do.

Overall, the dollar is stronger this morning as only a handful of currencies, notably the yen as a haven and INR as described above, have managed to gain ground. I expect that this will continue to be the pattern unless the Fed does something truly surprising like a 50bp cut in September or even more unlikely, a surprise inter-meeting cut. They have done that before, but it doesn’t seem to be in Chairman Powell’s wheelhouse.

The only data today is Consumer Credit this afternoon (exp $16.0B) and we hear from Chicago Fed President Charles Evans, a known dove later today. But equity futures are pointing higher and for now, the idea that Monday’s sharp decline was an opportunity rather than a harbinger of the future remains front and center. However, despite the equity market, I have a feeling the dollar is likely to maintain its overnight gains and perhaps extend them as well.

Good luck
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