Still Disrespected

According to data last night
The future in Germany’s bright
While right now, it stinks
Most everyone thinks
By Q3, they’ll all be alright

And yet, markets haven’t reflected
The positive vibe ZEW detected
Stock markets are dire
The dollar is higher
While oil is still disrespected

The one constant in the current market and economic environment is that nothing is consistent. For example, in Germany, the lockdown measures were extended for two weeks the day before Frau Merkel said that they would start to ease some restrictions, allowing small shops to open along with some schools. Then, this morning, the ZEW surveys were released with the Current Situation index printing at a historically low -91.5, well below the already dire forecasts of a -77.5 print. And yet, the Expectations index rose to +28.2, far higher than the median forecast of -42.0. Essentially, the commentary was that while Q1 and Q2 would be awful, things would be right as rain in Q3. But here’s a contradiction to that view, Oktoberfest, due to begin in late September, has just been canceled despite the fact that it is five months away and that it is in the middle of Q3, when things are ostensibly going to be much better there. My point is that, right now, interpreting signals of future activity is essentially impossible. Alas, that is what I try to do each morning.

So, what have we learned in the past twenty-four hours? Arguably, the biggest story was oil where the May WTI futures contract closed at -$37.63/bbl. In other words, the contract buyer is paid to take delivery of oil. And that’s the rub, storage capacity is almost entirely utilized while demand destruction continues daily. The IEA reported that current global production is running around 100 million barrels/day, with current demand running around 70 million barrels per day. In other words, plenty of oil is looking for a temporary home, and more of it is coming out of the ground each day. Arguably, this is a great opportunity for the US government to take delivery for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, especially since they would be getting paid for the oil. But that would require a nimbleness of action that is unlikely to be seen at any government level. This morning, June WTI futures are under further pressure, down by another 20% at $16.50/bbl as I type, simply indicating that there is limited hope for a rebound in the near term. But the curve remains in sharp contango, with prices at $30/bl in December and higher further out. This price action is simply the oil market’s manifestation of the current economic view; negative growth in Q1 and Q2 with a rebound coming in Q3. However, despite the logic, seeing any commodity, let alone the world’s most important commodity, trading below zero is a strange sight indeed.

With the oil market grabbing the world’s focus, it can be no surprise that the dollar has responded by rallying strongly, especially against those currencies that are seen as tightly linked to the price of oil. So, in the G10 space, NOK (-1.7%) and CAD (-0.7%) are suffering, with the Nokkie the worst performer in the group. But AUD (-0.95%), NZD (-1.25%) and GBP (-0.95%) are all under significant pressure as well. It seems that Kiwi has responded negatively to RBNZ Governor Orr’s musings regarding additional stimulus in May, while Aussie has suffered on the back of the weak pricing in energy markets as well as lousy employment data. Meanwhile, today’s pressure on the pound seems to stem from a renewal of the Brexit discussion, and how a hard exit will be deleterious. In addition, there are still those who claim the UK’s response to the pandemic has been inadequate and the impact there will be much worse than elsewhere. Interestingly, UK employment data released this morning did not paint as glum a picture as might have been expected. While we can ignore the Unemployment Rate, which is February’s number, the March Claims data was surprisingly moderate. I expect, however, that next month’s data will be far worse. And I continue to think the pound has far more downside than upside here.

Turning to the EMG bloc, we cannot be surprised to see RUB as the worst performer in the group, down 1.3%, nor, given the growing risk-off sentiment, that the entire space is lower vs. the dollar. As today is a day that ends in ‘y’, MXN is lower, falling 0.7% thus far, as the market is increasingly put off by both the ongoing oil price declines as well as the ongoing incompetence demonstrated by the AMLO administration. (As an aside here, it seems that many Mexican financial institutions see much further peso weakness in the future as they are actively selling pesos in the market.) The other underperformers are HUF (-0.85%), ZAR (-0.8%) and KRW (-0.75%). Working in reverse order, the won is suffering as questions arise about the health of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who according to some reports, is critically ill and close to death. The concern is there is no obvious successor in place, and no way to know what the future will hold. Meanwhile, the rand is under pressure from the weakness throughout the commodity space as well as the realization that the carry that can be earned by holding the currency has diminished to its lowest level since 2008. For a currency that has been dependent on foreign holdings, this is a real problem.

I guess, given that the euro is only lower by 0.2%, it is actually a top performer of the day, so perhaps the German data has been a support to the single currency. The thing is, given the export orientation of the German (and Eurozone) economy, unless things pick up elsewhere, growth expectations will need to be modified lower for Q3. Don’t be surprised if we see this in the survey data going forward.

Elsewhere, equity markets everywhere are in the red, with European indices down between 1.7% and 2.5%. Asian stock markets were also lower, by similar amounts, and after yesterday’s US declines, the futures this morning show losses of between 0.7% for the NASDAQ and 1.5% for the Dow. Bond yields continue to fall, with 10-year Treasuries lower by 3bps this morning, and overall, risk is being sold.

The only data this morning is Existing Home Sales from March, with the median expectation for a 9% decline to 5.25M. As to Fed speakers, the quiet period ahead of next Wednesday’s FOMC meeting has begun so there is nothing to hear there. Of course, given what they have already done, as well as the fact that every act is unanimously accepted, I don’t see any value add from their comments in the near-term.

Last week saw a net gain in the equity markets as the narrative embraced the idea that the infection curve was flattening and that we were past the worst of the impact. This week, despite the ZEW data, I would contend investors are beginning to understand that things will take a very long time to get back to normal, and that the chance for new lows is quite high. In this environment, the dollar is likely to remain well bid.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

 

The Absolute Fact

It’s been one score years and one more
Since prices for oil hit this floor
Despite last week’s pact
The absolute fact
Is there’s no place for, it, to store

Q1 1999 was the last time the price of the front-month oil contract on the Comex was trading as low as it has this morning. As I type, it is currently at $13.55/bbl, down more than $4.70 on the session, which on a percentage basis is more than 25%! And you thought currency volatility was high. At any rate, it seems the major issue is that oil producers have no place left to store the stuff, and since demand has collapsed, the natural response is for the price to collapse as well. Now, in fairness, while this will garner the headlines, the market reality may be slightly different, because the May futures contract, which expires tomorrow, is no longer the active contract, that has moved to June. Now, the June contract is down nearly 10%, but is still trading above $22/bbl, so this morning’s excitement may have less long-term market impact than it seems at first. Nonetheless, it does point to just how disruptive the coronavirus has been to markets all around the world.

Of course, one should not be surprised by the currencies that have felt the repercussions of this oil price decline the most severely; MXN (-1.9%), RUB (-0.45%), NOK (-0.65%) and CAD (-0.7%). The peso has been one of the market’s favorite whipping boys all year, as it has declined nearly 22% thus far. ZAR (-25.7%) and BRL (-23.0%) are the only two currencies to underperform the peso. Thus, this morning’s nearly 2% decline cannot be a surprise. In fact, since March 2, truthfully before Covid was widely understood to be the threat it has become to Western economies, the average daily range in USDMXN has been 3.78% which works out to an annualized volatility of nearly 60%. The remarkable thing is how cheap MXN options are relative to actual movement. For example, this morning, 1-month implied volatility is trading on the order of 25%, clearly far less than the type of movement we have seen in the past seven weeks. And given oil’s extreme volatility, and the peso’s link to the price of oil, I expect that we are going to continue to see the peso trade like this for the foreseeable future. The implication here is that hedgers might want to consider owning some of this optionality to help manage the uncertainties of their exposures during this time.

Away from the oil story, though, we have an entirely different narrative forming regarding the virus and its impact on the broader economy. Despite a number of countries having extended their lockdown procedures into the second week of May, we are also getting the first signs that the peak of infections may have passed, and we are hearing from more and more quarters that reopening the economy is more critical given that fact. This has been a big part of the rationale behind the equity market rally we saw last week, which despite the evidence of just how awful Q1 earnings are going to be, was really remarkably robust.

There continue to be two strong storylines with bulls claiming that this is a temporary hit and given the amount of stimulus, both fiscal and monetary, that has been brought to bear on the problem, the ‘V’ shaped recovery is still a high probability outcome. The bears, on the other hand, continue to highlight that expectations for the economy going forward to look anything like it did three months ago are misguided, and that it will take far longer to achieve any real recovery. Structural changes will have been made resulting in a much higher unemployment rate, considerably less consumption and, thus, much weaker GDP growth. Earnings will suffer and stock prices alongside them. Last week’s price action, with both up and down days, was an excellent depiction of this battle. And this battle will continue until one side’s argument is borne out. In other words, equity market volatility is likely to be with us for many months to come as well.

So, turning to this morning’s session, we have actually seen equity markets somewhat softer, with most of Europe lower by a bit below 1.0% which followed Asia’s similarly modest weakness. US futures, though, are starting to come under more pressure, having only been down 0.5% early in the session, but now looking at 1.5% declines. Interestingly, Treasury yields have barely moved, with the 10-year lower by less than 1 basis point, although in Europe, the weakest economies (PIGS) have all seen their government bond yields rise by more than 8bps, a sign of risk being jettisoned. And finally, gold is little changed on the morning, although given the dollar’s broad rally since the beginning of March, it has held its value extremely well.

As to the rest of the FX market, the dollar is largely, albeit not universally stronger this morning, and has been gaining ground as risk has been selling off. NOK and CAD lead the way lower, but the pound is also feeling stress as Brexit (remember that?) comes back into view with discussions starting up again. There is a big question as to whether PM Johnson will concede to an extension of the current situation given the unprecedented disruption caused by Covid-19. Fears that he won’t, and that the UK will crash out with no deal are likely to start to come back if we don’t hear positive news on this front soon. In the EMG bloc, away from the peso, there were more losers than winners, but the magnitudes of movement this morning have been far less than what we have seen recently. Ultimately, if risk continues to be shed, I expect the dollar to remain well bid against all comers.

On the data front, we start to see a bigger range of March data, which will clearly have been impacted by the virus and response.

Tuesday Existing Home Sales 5.3M
Thursday Initial Claims 4.5M
  Continuing Claims 17.27M
  Markit Mfg PMI 38.0
  Markit Services PMI 31.3
  New Home Sales 644K
Friday Durable Goods -12.0%
  -ex Transport -6.0%
  Michigan Sentiment 68.0

Source: Bloomberg

As we have seen for the past several weeks, the Claims data is likely to be the most important, although the PMI data will be interesting as well. Of course, the question, at this point, is whether the market will have discounted what it perceives to be all the bad news and ignore this data. While we may see that again for another week or two, my sense is that at some point, investors will realize that the future is not quite so bright, and that risk is not where they want to be. That seems to be today’s short-term narrative, but it has not changed the bigger view yet.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Covid’s Attacks

We’re finally going to see
The data which shows the degree
Of all the impacts
By Covid’s attacks
On life as we knew it to be

Risk assets are under pressure this morning as market participants once again reevaluate the cost-benefit analysis of government actions during the ongoing Covid-19 crisis. The question which bedevils both politicians and markets is, what is the proper balance between restricting economic activity via lockdown orders to prevent further spread of the virus vs. maintaining economic activity in order to prevent the global economy from collapsing? The problem is there is no easy answer to this dilemma, and the reality is that every nation has a different tradeoff based on the nature of its economy as well as the social and cultural mores that exist there.

And so, every nation continues to go their own way as they try to figure out the response best suited for their own circumstances. What is beginning to change as time passes is the data reports that will be released in the coming days and weeks will now be reflective of the first periods of shutdowns and will offer the best indications yet of just how severe the economic damage, thus far, has been. Remember, most data are backward looking. In fact, other than the Initial Claims data, which is both timely and has been awful, analysts are simply guessing at the economic impact so far. Thus, much will be learned this week and next as we start to see the first measurements of how significant the impact has been to date. In fact, we start with today’s Retail Sales data (exp -8.0%, -5.0% ex autos), as well as Empire Manufacturing (-35.0), IP (-4.0%), Capacity Utilization (74.0%) and then the Fed’s Beige Book at 2:00. All of this data is for March, which means that the crisis was in full swing for the bulk of the period. Expectations, as can be seen above, are for substantial declines across the board. But are econometric models based on history going to be effective in forecasting unprecedented events? My money is on no. If the first pieces of data we have seen are any indication, then today’s numbers will be much worse than currently anticipated.

However, as any economist worth their salt will explain, markets are discounting instruments, always looking some period into the future, rather than looking backwards. And that is, no doubt, just as true now as before the Covid-19 outbreak. The question of the moment then becomes, just how far ahead is the market discounting? There seems to be a significant difference of opinion between the bond and equity markets, with the latter having a far more optimistic view than the former. In fact, the bond market appears to be pricing in a significantly longer period of economic disruption, as evidenced by the 30-year yield at 1.32%, than is the stock market, which has already retraced 50% of its initial decline.

One other thing to remember is that recent government actions indicate further delays in reopening economies, rather than any speeding up of the process. This is evidenced by this morning’s German announcement that they will be extending lockdown measures to May 3, from the previously expected April 19. And the Germans have had a measure of success in slowing the spread of the virus, with today being the sixth consecutive day of a lower count of new infections. So, for those nations where the infection rate is not slowing, like the US, it becomes that much more difficult to revert to any sense of normalcy.

History has shown that when the stock and bond markets tell different stories, like they are now, it is more frequent the bond market has things right. I see no reason that this situation is any different and expect that we are coming to the end of the equity market bounce. Risk is far more likely to be shed than added in the next few weeks, and that means that haven assets like the dollar and they yen should resume their climb.

With that in mind, let’s look at markets this morning. The dollar is definitely in the ascendant vs. its G10 brethren with NOK (-1.9%) the leading decliner after the OPEC+ talks led to a disappointing outcome and oil prices have fallen to new lows for the move with WTI touching $19.20/bbl earlier this morning. But Aussie (-1.8%) and Kiwi (-1.7%) are feeling the weight of weaker commodity prices and less confidence in China’s rebound as well. Even JPY, the best performer today is lower by 0.15%, just reinforcing that in the strange new world we inhabit, the dollar remains the single most attractive currency in which to hold assets.

In the Emerging markets, the story is similar with most currencies under pressure led by ZAR (-1.8%), MXN and RUB (both -1.7%) on the back of the weak oil/commodity story. However, we did see two gainers overnight, IDR (+0.45%) and THB (+0.3%). The former seems to be benefitting from the fact that the central bank there surprised markets and did not cut rates yesterday, as well as the positive economic impact of showing a small trade surplus, thus reducing external financing pressures. Meanwhile, the baht seems to be the beneficiary of an announcement of a new fiscal stimulus totaling nearly $31 billion, which is seen as quite substantial there. Otherwise, the bulk of this bloc has seen more modest losses, somewhere between 0.2% and 1.0%.

Having already discussed today’s data, I think the real question for FX markets today will be just how equity markets perform as a better indicator of risk sentiment. Europe has been under pressure all morning, with almost all markets there lower by about 2.0%. Meanwhile, US equity futures are pointing in the same direction, with losses currently pegged between 1.1% (NASDAQ) and 1.7%(S&P 500). Of course, the Retail Sales data will be out before the equity market opening, so there is ample opportunity for either a significantly worse opening in the event the data is even worse than expected, as well as an extension of the recent rally should the data somehow surprise on the high side. I fear the worst.

So be prepared for a risk-off session as we finally start to see just how badly the US economy has been damaged by Covid-19. Ironically, this implies that the dollar is set for further gains as the rest of the world is likely to be even worse off.

Good luck
Adf

 

Just an Illusion

It seems there’s a bit of confusion
‘Bout whether this time of seclusion
Will actually end
The virus’ growth trend
Or if this is just an illusion

Markets have a less certain feel about them this morning than we have seen the past several days. Consider, despite continuing increases in both deaths and the caseload in the hardest hit areas, risk has been gathered up pretty aggressively. I realize that the narrative that is trying to be told is that we have passed the peak of infections and that with a little perseverance regarding all the shelter-in-place orders, we can expect the virtual halt in the global economy to end. The problem with this narrative is that the earliest infection sites in Asia; China, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan, have recently seen the infection data turn higher again. At the same time, we continue to hear of daily increases in the fatality count in Spain, Italy, Germany, the UK and New York, with all of those places considering extensions of their lockdowns.

And yet, US and European stock markets are higher by between 8% and 12% so far this week. I continue to be confused by this price action as it appears to imply that investors expect companies to simply pick up where they left off before the lockdowns and disruption began. The problem with that view is it appears to be complete fantasy. Consider, this morning we are going to get our third consecutive Initial Claims number that prints in the millions. Prior to two weeks ago, the largest single data point ever in the series was 695K. The median expectation on Bloomberg this morning is for 5.5M with the range of estimates 2.5M and 7.5M. The thing is, this number has the potential to be much higher than that. In fact, it would not surprise me if we saw a 10.0M print. One of the biggest problems that has consistently been reported is that most states’ employment systems have not been able to handle the crush of applications, although they have been working feverishly to catch up. Add to that the fact that over the past week we have heard an increasing number of states declare that more and more non-essential businesses need to close down for the remainder of the month, while more and more large companies are furloughing employees and only covering health care costs. Prior to the onset of the pandemic, the workforce in the US numbered about 178 million. If 25% of the economy has been shuttered, and I think that is a conservative estimate, that implies some 44 million people will eventually be applying for unemployment insurance. Three plus weeks into this process, we have only heard about 10 million. I fear there are many more to come, so don’t be surprised if today’s number is MUCH higher.

Continuing along this premise, if the claims data turns out to be much worse than expected, will that unravel the narrative that the worst is behind us? Or in fact, will markets begin to understand that even when the infection is well past its peak, economic activity will take a long time to recover. There is a great deal of discussion right now about what shape the recovery will take later this year and next. The first big assumption is that the recovery will start in Q3, which seems brave given we still don’t have an accurate representation of Covid-19’s actual pathology. But let’s work with that assumption. The bulk of the debate is whether the recovery will chart like a ‘V’ or a ‘U’. However, the more pessimistic discuss a ‘W’ or even an ‘L’. Alas, I fear we may see a ‘Harry Potter’ recovery, one that looks more like

We will learn much in a short while. However, until then, let’s take a look at the markets this morning, where the dollar remains under pressure, akin to yesterday, yet government bonds are rallying and equity markets are having a mixed performance. Aside from the Claims data, all eyes are on the tape to see what comes out of the OPEC+ meeting and whether or not they can agree on significant production cuts to help stem the extraordinary build-up in stored oil. Oil traders remain quite bullish as we are seeing Brent crude futures higher by 4.1% and WTI higher by 6.7%. That is clearly helping support the narrative that the worst is behind us. But even if they manage to agree to the mooted 10 million barrel/day production cut, will that be enough to stem the tide? Estimated usage prior to the current situation was 93 million barrels/day, so this represents a nearly 11% production cut. But again, if I go back to my 25% decline in activity, that still means there is a lot of surplus oil being pumped with fewer and fewer places to put it. This price move has all the earmarks of a buy the rumor situation. Just watch out upon the news of an agreement. And especially be careful if they cannot agree production cuts, which is likely to be a significant market negative.

Turning to FX markets, in the G10 space, NOK is the leader today, rallying 0.5% on the back of oil’s gains, and we also see the pound rallying this morning, up 0.4%, after the BOE changed its mind and explained it would be monetizing UK debt, thus expanding the government’s ability to increase stimulus. Meanwhile, a few currencies, CAD, NZD, are a bit softer, but the movement is so small as to be meaningless. Looking at the EMG bloc, IDR is today’s champ, rising 2.3%, after the government issued 50-year dollar bonds and laid out its path to help finance extraordinary stimulus. The rupiah has been under significant pressure since the beginning of March, having fallen nearly 13% before today’s rebound. Allegedly the fundamentals show the currency is still too cheap, but markets may have another take. Beyond the rupiah, RUB has rallied 1.4% on the strength of oil, while HUF and CZK are both higher by a bit more than 1.0% as both currencies seem to be benefitting from large bond financings. However, with the Easter holiday upcoming, there were a number of markets closed last night and we will see many closed tomorrow as well, so price action has been somewhat muted.

On the data front, along with Initial Claims, we see PPI (exp 1.2%, 1.3% ex food & energy), as well as Michigan Sentiment (75.0). However, it is all about the Claims data today. My expectation is that if the print is within the range of expectations, that will not derail the recent equity strength, but if we come out on the high side, especially with Good Friday tomorrow and US equity markets closed, we could easily see a significant risk-off outcome by the end of the day.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Set For a Rout

In case you still had any doubt
That growth has encountered a drought
The readings this morning
Gave adequate warning
That markets are set for a rout

You may all remember the Chinese PMI data from last month (although granted, that seems like a year ago) when the official statistic printed at 35.7, the lowest in the history of the series. Well, it was the rest of the world’s turn this month to see those shockingly low numbers as IHS Markit released the results of their surveys for March. Remember, they ask a simple question; ‘are things better, the same or worse than last month?’ Given the increasing spread of Covid-19 and the rolling shut-downs across most of Europe and the US in March, it can be no surprise that this morning’s data was awful, albeit not as awful as China’s was in February. In fact, the range of outcomes in the Eurozone was from Italy’s record low of 40.3 to the Netherlands actually printing at 50.5, still technically in expansion phase. The Eurozone overall index was at 44.5, just a touch above the lows reached during the European bond crisis in 2012. You remember that, when Signor Draghi promised to do “whatever it takes” to save the euro. The difference this time is that was a self-inflicted wound, this problem is beyond the ECB’s control.

The current situation highlights one of the fundamental problems with the construction of the Eurozone, a lack of common fiscal policy. While this has been mentioned many times before, it is truly coming home to roost now. In essence, with no common fiscal policy, each of the 19 countries share a currency, but make up their own budgets. Now there are rules about the allowed levels of budget deficits as well as debt/GDP ratios, but the reality is that no country has really changed their ways since the Union’s inception. And that means that Germany, Austria and the Netherlands remain far more frugal than Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece. And the people of Germany are just not interested in paying for the excesses of Italian or Spanish activities, as long as they have a choice.

This is where the ECB can make a big difference, and perhaps why Madame Lagarde, as a politician not banker, turns out to have been an inspired choice for the President’s role. Prior to the current crisis, the ECB made every effort to emulate the Bundesbank, and was adamant about preventing the monetization of national debt. But in the current situation, with Covid-19 not seeming to respect the German’s inherent frugality, every nation is rolling out massive spending packages. And the ECB has pledged to buy up as much of the issued debt as they deem necessary, regardless of previous rules about capital keys and funding. Thus, ironically, this may be what ultimately completes the integration of Europe. Either that or initiates the disintegration of the euro. Right now, it’s not clear, although the euro’s inability to rally, despite a clear reduction in USD funding pressures, perhaps indicates a modestly greater likelihood of the latter rather than the former. In the end, national responses to Covid-19 continue to truly hinder economic activity and there seems to be no immediate end in sight.

With that as our preamble, a look at markets as the new quarter dawns shows that things have not gotten any better than Q1, at least not in the equity markets. After a quarter where the S&P 500 fell 20.0%, and European indices all fell between 25% and 30%, this morning sees equity markets under continued pressure. Asia mostly suffered (Nikkei -4.5%, Hang Seng -2.2%) although Australian stocks had a powerful rally (+3.6%) on the strength of an RBA announcement of A$3 billion of QE (it’s first foray there). Europe, meanwhile, has seen no benefits with every market down at least 1.75% (Italy) with the CAC (-4.0%) and DAX (-3.6%) the worst performers on the Continent. Not to be left out, the FTSE 100 has fallen 3.8% despite UK PMI data printing at a better than expected 47.8. But this is a risk-off session, so a modestly better than expected data print is not enough to turn the tide.

Bond markets are true to form this morning with Treasury yields down nearly 7bps, Bund yields down 3bps and Gilt yields lower by 6bps, while both Italian (+5bps) and Greek (+9bps) yields are rising. Bond investors have clearly taken to pricing the latter two akin to equities rather than the more traditional haven idea behind government bonds. And a quick spin through the two most followed commodities shows gold rising 0.8% while oil is split between a 3.5% decline in Brent despite a 0.5% rally in WTI.

And finally, in the FX world, the dollar continues to be the biggest winner, although we have an outlier in Norway, where the krone is up by 0.8% this morning, despite the weakness in Brent crude and the very weak PMI data. Quite frankly, looking at the chart, it appears that the Norgesbank has been in once again supporting the currency, which despite today’s gains, has fallen by nearly 9% in the past month. Otherwise, in the G10 space, CAD is the worst performer, down 1.4%, followed closely by AUD (-1.0%) as commodity prices generally remain under pressure. In fact, despite its 0.25% decline vs. the dollar, the pound is actually having a pretty good session.

In EMG markets, it is HUF (-2.5%) and MXN (-2.1%) which are the leading decliners with the former suffering on projected additional stimulus reducing the rate structure there, while the peso continues to suffer from weak oil prices and the US slowdown. But really, the entire space is lower as well, with APAC and EMEA currencies all down on the day and LATAM set to slide on the opening.

On the data front this morning, we see ADP Employment (exp -150K), which will be a very interesting harbinger of Friday’s payroll data, as well as ISM Manufacturing (48.0) and Prices Paid (44.5). We already saw the big hit in Initial Claims last week, and tomorrow’s is set to grow more, so today is where we start to see just how big the impact on the US economy Covid-19 is going to have. I fear, things will get much worse before they turn, and an annualized decline of as much as 10% in Q1 GDP is possible in my view. But despite that, there is no indication that the dollar is going to be sold in any substantial fashion in the near term. Too many people and institutions need dollars, and even with all the Fed’s largesse, the demand has not been sated.

Volatility will remain with us for a while yet, so keep that in mind as you look for hedging opportunities. Remember, volatility can work in your favor as well, especially if you leave orders.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Outrageous

The ECB’s fin’lly decided
That limits were badly misguided
So, starting today
All bonds are in play
To purchase, Lagarde has confided

As well, in the Senate, at last
The stimulus bill has been passed
Amidst all its pages
The Fed got outrageous
New powers, and hawks were aghast

Recent price action in risk assets demonstrated the classic, ‘buy the rumor, sell the news’ concept as equity market activity in the past two sessions had been strongly positive on the back of the anticipated passage of a huge stimulus bill in the US. And last night, the Senate finally got over their procedural bickering and hurdles and did just that. As such, it should be no great surprise that risk assets are under pressure today, with only much less positive news on the horizon. Instead, we can now look forward to death tolls and bickering about government responses to the quickly evolving crisis. If that’s not a reason to sell stocks, I don’t know what is!

But taking a break from descriptions of market activity, I think it is worthwhile to discuss two other features of the total government response to this crisis. And remember, once government powers are enacted, it is extremely difficult to remove them.

The first is from the US stimulus bill, where there is a $500 billion portion of the bill that is earmarked for support of the business community. $75 billion is to go to shore up airlines and the aerospace infrastructure, but the other $425 billion is added to the Treasury’s reserve fund which they can use to backstop, at a 10:1 leverage ratio, Fed lending. In other words, all of the programs about which we have been hearing, including the CP backstop, the primary dealer backstop, and discussion of purchases of municipal and corporate bonds as well as even equities, will now have the funding in place to the tune of $4.25 trillion. This means that we can expect the Fed balance sheet to balloon toward at least $9 trillion before long, perhaps as quickly as the end of the year. Interestingly, just last year we consistently heard from mainstream economists as well as Chairman Powell and Secretary Mnuchin, how Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) was a crock and a mistake to consider. And yet, here we are at a point where it is now the best option available and about to effectively be enshrined in law. It seems this crisis will indeed be quite transformational with the death of the Austrian School of economics complete, and the new math of MMT at the forefront of the dismal science.

Meanwhile, Madame Lagarde could not tolerate for Europe to be left behind in this monetary expansion and so the ECB scrapped their own eligibility rules regarding purchases of assets to help support the Eurozone member economies. This means that the capital key, the guideline the ECB used to make sure they didn’t favor one nation over another, but rather executed their previous QE on a proportional basis relative to the size of each economy, is dead. This morning the ECB announced that they can buy whatever they please and they will do so in size, at least €750 billion, for the rest of this year and beyond if they deem it necessary. This goes hand in hand with the recent German repudiation of their fiscal prudence, as no measure is deemed unreasonable in an effort to fight Covid-19. In addition to this, the OMT program (Outright Monetary Transactions) which was created by Signor Draghi in the wake of the Eurozone bond crisis in 2012 but never utilized, may have a new lease on life. The problem had been that in order for a country (Italy) to avail themselves of the ECB hoovering up their debt, the country needed to sign up for specific programs aimed at addressing underlying structural problems in said country. But it seems that wrinkle is about to be ironed out as well, and that OMT will finally be utilized, most likely for Italian bonds.

While neither the Fed nor ECB will be purchasing bonds in the primary market, you can be sure that is not even remotely a hindrance. In fact, buying through the secondary market ensures that the bank intermediaries make a profit as well, another little considered, but important benefit of these programs.

The upshot is that when this crisis passes, and it will do so at some point, governments and central banks will have even more impact and control on all decisions made, whether business or personal. Remember what we learned from Milton Friedman, “nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program.”

Now back to market behavior today. It is certainly fair to describe the session as a risk-off day, with equity markets have been under pressure since the beginning of trading. Asia was lower (Nikkei -4.5%, Hang Seng -0.75%), Europe has been declining (DAX -2.3%, CAC -1.8%, FTSE 100 -2.1%) and US futures are lower (SPU’s -1.4%, Dow -1.0%). Meanwhile, Treasury yields have fallen 6bps, and European government bonds are all rallying on the back of the ECB announcement. After all, the only price insensitive buyer has just said they are coming back in SIZE. Commodity prices are soft, with WTI falling 2%, and agriculturals softer across the board although the price of gold continues to be a star, as it is little changed this morning but that means it is holding onto its recent 11% gain.

And finally, in the FX markets, while G10 currencies are all looking robust vs. the dollar, led by the yen’s 1.2% gain and Norway’s continued benefit from recent intervention helping it to rally a further 0.75%, EMG currencies are more mixed. ZAR is the worst of the day, down 0.9% as an impending lockdown in the country to fight Covid-19, is combining with its looming credit rating cut to junk by Moody’s to discourage buying of the currency. We’ve also seen weakness in an eclectic mix of EMG currencies with HUF (-0.35%), KRW (-0.25%) and MXN (-0.2%) all softer this morning. In fairness, the peso had a gangbusters rally yesterday, jumping nearly 3.5%, so a little weakness is hardly concerning. On the plus side, APAC currencies are the leaders with MYR, IDR and INR all firmer by 1.2% on the strength of their own stimulus (India’s $22.6 billiion package) or optimism over the impact of the US stimulus.

Perhaps the biggest thing on the docket this morning is Initial Claims (exp 1.64M) which would be a record number. But so you understand how uncertain this forecast is, the range of forecasts is from 360K to 4.40M, so nobody really has any idea how bad it will be. My fear is we will be worse than the median, but perhaps not as high as the 4.4M guess. And really, that’s the only data that matters. The rest of it is backward looking and will not inform any views of the near future.

We have seen two consecutive days of a risk rally, the first two consecutive equity rallies in more than a month, but I expect that there are many more down days in our future. The dollar’s weakness in the past two sessions is temporary in my view, so if you have short term receivables to hedge, now is a good time. One other thing to remember is that bid-ask spreads continue to be much wider than we are used to, so do not be shocked when you begin your month-end balance sheet activity today.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

 

Hawks Acquiesce

In Germany and the US
The crisis made hawks acquiesce
To spending more dough
Despite and although
Things ultimately will be a mess

There is only one story of note this morning, at least from the market’s collective perspective, and that is the news that the Senate has agreed the details of a stimulus package in the US. The price tag is currently pegged at $2.0 trillion, although it would not surprise me if when this bill gets to the House, they add a bit more lard. Fiscal hawks have been set aside and ignored as the immediate concerns over the virtual halt in the US (and global) economy has taken precedence over everything else. The package offers support for small and medium sized businesses, direct cash payments to individuals and increased allocations to states in order to help them cope with Covid-19. But overall, what it does is demonstrate that the US is not going to sit by and watch as the economy slides into a deep recession.

And that seems to be the signal that markets were awaiting. We have already seen Germany discard decades of fiscal prudence in their effort to address the collapse in business activity there. In fact, their social demands are even greater than in the US, with no groups of more than 2 people allowed to congregate together. While it cannot be a surprise that the IFO indicator was revised lower this morning, with the Expectations Index falling to within a whisker of its financial crisis lows of 79.2. The real question is if the measures invoked to stop the spread of the virus continue for another month, just how low can this reading go? The one thing that is clear is that we are going to continue to see some unprecedented damage to economic statistics as the next several months evolve.

But none of that matters today, at least in the world of finance. The promise of more money being spent has led to some spectacular rallies in equity markets in the past twenty-four hours. By now you are all aware of yesterday’s late day melt-up in the US, where the Dow closed higher by 11.4%, outpacing even the NASDAQ (+8.1%). And overnight, the Nikkei rocketed 8% higher as a follow-through on the US news and despite the news that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are now going to be the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. The rest of Asia rose as well (Hang Seng +3.8%, Shanghai +2.7%, Australia +5.5%) and Europe started out on fire. But a funny thing happened in the past hour, it seems that more sober heads took over.

European equity indices, which had exploded higher at the opening (DAX +4.4%, CAC +4.9%) have given back most of those early gains and are now mixed with the DAX lower by 0.4% although the CAC clinging to +0.9% gain. US futures, which were similarly much higher earlier, between 2% and 3%, have now erased all those gains and are now marginally lower on the session. In fact, I suspect that this is going to continue to be the situation in equity markets as each piece of new news will need to be absorbed into the pricing matrix. And for now, there is just as much bad news as good, thus driving significant volatility in this asset class going forward.

Bond markets are seeing similar style moves, alternating between risk-on and risk-off, although with much of the leverage having already been wiped out of these markets, and central banks around the world directly supporting them through massive QE purchases, the magnitude of the moves are much smaller. Early this morning, we saw Treasuries under pressure, with yields higher by as much as 4bps, but now they have actually rallied, and the 10-year yield is lower by 1bp. There is similar price action in European government bond markets although the recent rally has not quite reversed all the early losses. Of course, the ECB’s €750 billion program is dwarfed by the Fed’s QE Infinity, so perhaps that should not be a great surprise.

And finally, turning to the FX markets, the dollar remains under pressure, as we have seen all week, as fears over the availability of dollars has diminished somewhat in the wake of the Fed’s actions. This has led to NOK once again being the leader in the clubhouse, rallying a further 2.1% this morning which takes its movement this week to 7.5%! It seems that the first batch of weekly FX flow statistics from the Norgesbank confirm that they did, indeed, intervene earlier this week, which given the price action, can be the only explanation. (I am, however, proud of them for not publicly blaring it, rather simply doing the job and allowing markets to respond.) And given the oil price collapse and the damage that will do to the Norwegian economy, it makes sense that they would want to manage the situation. But most currencies are firmer so far this week, with AUD (+3.8%) and SEK (+2.75%) recouping at least a part of what had been devastating recent losses. As to today’s session, aside from NOK, the pound is the next best performer, rallying 0.9% on the strength of a new liquidity program by the BOE as well as what appears to be hope that recent government pronouncements regarding social distancing and shelter in place rules, seems to demonstrate Boris is finally going to come into line with the rest of the world’s governments on the proper containment strategy.

EMG currencies are also performing well this morning as the broad-based dollar decline lifts most of them. KRW is the best performer today, +1.6%, which is in line with last night’s euphoria over the US stimulus bill. MXN had been sharply higher early but has since given up some of its gains and is now higher by only 1% as I type. The market is not pleased with AMLO’s attitude toward the virus, nor it seems are the Mexican people based on the erosion in his approval ratings. Meanwhile, the other major LATAM economy, Brazil, is poised to see its currency weaken even further as President Bolsonaro also ignores the current protocols of self-quarantine or shelter-in-place and encourages his nation to ignore the virus and go about their lives. I have a feeling that President Bolsonaro is going to be a one-term president. BRL hasn’t opened yet but has fallen more than 2% this week already. I expect more will come.

On the data front, yesterday’s PMI data while awful, was actually not nearly as bad as the data seen in Europe or Asia. This morning brings Durable Goods (exp -1.0%, -0.4% ex transport) although these are February numbers, so will not really tell us much about the current state of the economy. Rather, all eyes are turning to tomorrow’s Initial Claims data, to see just how high that number will climb. There are numerous stories of state employment websites crashing from the overflow in volumes.

In the end, while the stimulus bill is good news, the proof remains in the pudding, as it were, and we need to see if all of that spending will help stabilize, then lift the US economy back to its prior trajectory. If this virtual lockdown lasts past Easter, the economic damage will become much more difficult to reverse and will make the hoped for V-shaped recovery that much harder to achieve. For now, though, we can only watch and wait. The one thing that remains clear is that in the end, the US dollar remains the haven of all havens, no matter the fiscal situation in the US. It will always be preferred to the alternative.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

 

No Respite

This weekend, alas, brought no respite
As markets are still in the cesspit
A worrying trend
While govs try to end
The panic, is that they turn despot

Well, things have not gotten better over the weekend, in fact, arguably they continue to deteriorate rapidly. And I’m not talking markets here, although they are deteriorating as well. More and more countries have determined that the best way to fight this scourge is to lockdown their denizens and prevent gatherings of more than a few people while imposing minimum distance restrictions to be maintained between individuals. And of course, given the crisis at hand, a virulently contagious disease, it makes perfect sense as a way to prevent its further spread. But boy, doesn’t it have connotations of a dictatorship?

The attempt to prevent large groups from gathering is a hallmark of dictators who want to prevent a revolution from upending their rule. The instructions to maintain a certain distance are simply a reminder that the government is more powerful than you and can force you to act in a certain manner. Remember, too, that governments, once they achieve certain powers, are incredibly loathe to give them up willingly. Those in charge want to remain so and will do almost anything to do so. Milton Friedman was spot on when he reminded us that, “nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program.” The point is, while the virus could not be foreseen, the magnitude of the economic impact is directly proportional to the economic policies that preceded it. In other words, a decade of too-easy money led to a massive amount of leverage, which under ‘normal’ market conditions was easily serviceable, but which has suddenly become a millstone around the economy’s neck. And adding more leverage won’t solve the problem. Both the economic and financial crisis have a ways to go yet, although they will certainly take more twists and turns before ending.

None of this, though, has dissuaded governments worldwide from trying every trick suggested to prevent an economic depression. At the same time, pundits and analysts are in an arms race, to make sure they will be heard, in forecasting economic catastrophe. Q2 US GDP growth is now being forecast to decline by anywhere from 5% to 50%! And the high number ostensibly came from St Louis Fed President James Bullard. Now I will be the first to tell you that I have no idea how Q2 will play out, but I also know that given the current circumstances, and the fact that the virus is a truly exogenous event, it strikes me that any macroeconomic model built based on historical precedents is going to be flat out wrong. And remember, too, we are still in Q1. If the draconian measures implemented are effective, recovery could well be underway by May 15 and that would result in a significant rebound in the second half of Q2. Certainly, that’s an optimistic viewpoint, but not impossible. The point is, we simply don’t know how the next several quarters are going to play out.

In the meantime, however, there is one trend that is becoming clearer in the markets; when a country goes into lockdown its equity market gets crushed. India is the latest example, with the Sensex falling 13.1% last night after the government imposed major restrictions on all but essential businesses and reduced transportation services. Not surprisingly, the rupee also suffered, falling 1.2% to a new record low. RBI activity to stem the tide has been marginally effective, at best, and remarkably, it appears that India is lagging even the US in terms of the timeline of Covid-19’s impact. The rupee has further to fall.

Singapore, too, has seen a dramatic weakening in its dollar, falling 0.9% today and trading to its lowest level since 2009. The stock exchange there also tumbled, -7.3%, as the government banned large gatherings and limited the return of working ex-pats.

These are just highlights (lowlights?) of what has been another difficult day in financial markets around the world. The one thing we have seen is that the Fed’s USD swap lines to other central banks have been actively utilized around the world as dollar liquidity remains at a premium. Right now, basis swaps have declined from their worst levels as these central bank activities have reduced some of the worst pressure for now. A big concern is that next Tuesday is quarter end (year end for Japan) and that dollar funding requirements over the accounting period could be extremely large, exacerbating an already difficult situation.

A tour around the FX markets shows that the dollar remains king against most everything although the yen has resumed its haven status, at least for today, by rallying 0.3%. Interestingly, NOK has turned around and is actually the strongest currency as I type, up 0.8% vs. the dollar after having been down as much as 1.3% earlier. This reversal appears to be on the back of currency intervention by the Norgesbank, which is the only thing that can explain the speed and magnitude of the movement ongoing as I type. What that tells me is that when they stop, NOK will resume its trip lower. But the rest of the G10 is on its heels, with kiwi the laggard, -1.25%, after the RBNZ jumped into the QE game and said they would be buying NZD 30 billion throughout the year. AUD and GBP are both lower by nearly 1.0%, as both nations struggle with their Covid responses on the healthcare front, not so much the financial front, as each contemplates more widespread restrictions.

In the emerging markets, IDR is actually the worst performer of all, down 3.7%, as despite central bank provision of USD liquidity, dollars remain in significant demand. This implies there may be a lack of adequate collateral to use to borrow dollars and could presage a much harsher decline in the future. But MXN and KRW are both lower by 1.5%, and remember, South Korea has been held up as a shining example of how to combat the disease. Their problem stems from the fact that as an export driven economy, the fact that the rest of the world is slowing rapidly is going to be devastating in the short-term.

Turning to the data, this week things will start to be interesting again as we see the first numbers that include the wave of shut-downs and limits on activity.

Today Chicago Fed Activity -0.29
Tuesday PMI Manufacturing 44.0
  PMI Services 42.0
  New Home Sales 750K
Wednesday Durable Goods -1.0%
  -ex transport -0.4%
Thursday Initial Claims 1500K
  Q4 GDP 2.1%
Friday Personal Income 0.4%
  Personal Spending 0.2%
  PCE Deflator core 0.2% (1.7% Y/Y)
  Michigan Sentiment 90.0

Source: Bloomberg

Tomorrow’s PMI data and Thursday’s Initial Claims are the first data that will have the impact of the extraordinary measures taken against the virus, so the real question is, just how bad will they be? I fear they could be much worse than expected, and that is not going to help our equity markets. It will, however, perversely help the dollar, as fear grows further.

Forecasting is a mugs game at all times, but especially now. The only thing that is clear is that the dollar continues to be in extreme demand and is likely to be so until we start to hear that the spread of Covid-19 has truly slowed down. That said, the dollar will not rally forever, so payables hedgers should be thinking of places where they can add to their books.

Good luck and stay well
Adf

Risk Assets Betray

There once was a time in the past
Ere Covid, when risk was amassed
But now every day
Risk assets betray
That fear is still growing quite fast

It is awfully hard to find the bright side of the current situation, whether discussing markets, the economy or the general state of the world. Volatility remains the watchword in markets as yesterday saw the largest US equity decline since Black Monday in October 1987. Globally, economic data that is remotely current continues to show the disastrous impact of Covid-19. The latest print is this morning’s German ZEW Survey where the Expectations reading fell to -49.5, its lowest level since the middle of the Eurozone crisis in 2011. And finally, one need only listen to the number of government pronouncements and edicts including border closures, business closures and curfews to recognize that it will be quite some time before our lives, as we knew them just a few months ago, return to some semblance of normal.

And while it is virtually certain that this situation will ebb over time, we continue to get estimates that are further and further into the future as to when that time will arrive. What had been assumed to be a six-week process is now sounding an awful lot like a six-month process.

But consider this, it is events of this nature that change the zeitgeist and will have much further reaching effects on every industry. For example, given how much of the US (and global) economy has become service oriented, outside of things like food service, I expect that we will see a much greater reliance on telecommuting going forward. Even in bank dealing rooms, a place that I always considered the last bastion of the importance of proximity of workers, we are seeing a pretty effective adjustment to working from remote locations. And you can be sure that whatever issues are currently still impeding the workflow, they will be addressed by technological fixes in short order.

But what does that do to automobile manufacturers and all their supply chains? And while fossil fuels aren’t going to disappear anytime soon, in fact given how much cheaper they have become, they will be able to supplant alternatives for now, at some point, all those industries are going to suffer as well. Ironically, the move toward urbanization that we have seen during the last decade may find itself halted as people decide that not cramming themselves into small apartments with hundreds of other people (mostly strangers) in close proximity, is really a healthier way to live. And certainly, leisure activities are likely to change their nature as well. While the future remains unknown, it certainly does appear that it will look very little like the recent past. Food for thought.

Turning to the markets more specifically, we continue to see a combination of central bank and government activity in increasingly strident efforts to ameliorate the negative economic impacts of Covid-19. So last night the BOJ bought a record amount (¥121.6 billion) of equity ETF’s to help support the stock market. To their credit, the action was able to prevent a further decline in prices there, as the Nikkei closed unchanged on the day. However, it is still lower by 32% since early February’s recent high. In addition, we have seen equity short-selling bans by France, Italy, Spain, South Korea and Belgium as of this morning in an effort to prevent further market declines. Spain is the only market that seems happy about it, rising 2.6% this morning, with the rest of Europe little changed generally. Risk assets are still on the block for sale, its simply a question of the available liquidity for positions to be unwound.

Of greater interest to me are global government bond markets, which are quickly losing their status as haven assets. Despite rate cuts from all over the globe, yields are rising virtually everywhere, even in the US this morning with 10-year Treasuries seeing a 9bp jump. But Bunds have been underperforming for more than a week, with yields on the 10-year there up nearly 50bps in that time. While it makes perfect sense that the PIGS are seeing yields rise in this environment, what I think we are seeing is a combination of two things for ‘safer’ bonds. First, when yields fall this low, a key haven characteristic, limited probability of losing principal, is put at risk, because any reversal in yields will result in very sharp price declines. And second, with the spending commitments that are being made by governments on a daily basis, I think bond investors are starting to price in the idea that there is going to be a massive increase in the supply of bonds starting pretty soon. And asset managers don’t want to get caught in that blitz either. It is the second of these reasons that will continue to drive central banks to promulgate QE measures, and you can be sure we will continue to see those programs coming. In fact, I think the MMTer’s have won the debate, as that is likely to be a very accurate description of monetary policy in the future.

Finally, this morning the dollar has regained its crown and is, by far, the strongest currency around. It has rallied vs. all the G10, and pretty sharply as well. For instance, CAD is the best performer of the bunch today, and it is lower by 0.75%, having found a new home with the dollar above 1.40. SEK and AUD are the worst performers, both down around 1.7%, as the krona is seeing increased speculative betting that they will be forced to go back to negative rates, while Down Under, the Lucky Country has run out of luck with a collapsing Chinese economy crushing commodity prices, and the RBA promising to do more to stop the economy’s slowdown.

In the EMG space, the dollar is also reigning supreme this morning with EEMEA currencies under the most pressure. Given their relative outperformance lately, it cannot be too surprising that we are seeing this type of price action. HUF is today’s laggard, down 2.1%, but PLN (-2.0%), RON (-1.6%) and BGN (-1.2%) are all feeling the pain. Asian currencies are also lower, but generally not by quite as much, although IDR and KRW are both lower by around 1.5%.

Ultimately, the dollar’s strength today is probably best attributed to the absolute blowout in the basis swaps market, where borrowing dollars vs. other currencies has become hugely expensive. Given the way economic activity is contracting so rapidly, and so revenues everywhere are shrinking, all those non-US companies that need to repay dollar debt are desperate to get hold of the buck. Once financing charges rise high enough, the next step is generally outright purchases of dollars on the FX market. And that is what we are seeing this morning. Look for more of that going forward.

It’s ironic, Retail Sales is released this morning (exp 0.2%, 0.1% ex autos) on the same day I received emails that Nordstrom is closing its stores for the next two weeks along with a myriad of other smaller retailers. We also see IP (0.4%), Capacity Utilization (77.1%) and the JOLT’s Jobs Report (6.40M). But again, this data looks backward and in the quickly evolving world today, I doubt it will have an impact. Rather, while risk stabilized somewhat overnight, my sense is this is a temporary situation, and that we are going to see another wave of risk reduction, certainly before the week is over. So, for now, the dollar will continue to find a lot of demand.

Good luck
Adf

 

Times of Trouble

In times of trouble
The yen continues to be
Mighty like an oak

Pop quiz! What percentage of the workforce is working at their primary site vs. home or an alternate site? Please respond with where you’re working and your guesstimates. Will publish results of this (completely unscientific) survey on Monday, March 16.

As markets around the world continue to melt down, investors everywhere are looking for a haven to retain capital. For the past 100 years, US Treasuries have been the number one destination in markets. Interestingly, the past two days saw Treasuries sell off aggressively. I think the move was initially based on the relief rally seen on Tuesday, but at this point, the fact that Treasury prices fell alongside yesterday’s stock rout can only be explained by the idea that institutions that need cash are selling the only liquid assets they have, and Treasuries remain quite liquid. And to be clear, 10-year yields are lower by 18bps this morning as that bout of selling seems to have passed and the haven demand has returned in spades.

But since the financial crisis, the second most powerful haven asset has been the Japanese yen. Despite the fact that the nation has basically been in an economic funk for two decades, it continues to run a significant current account surplus. As a consequence, Japanese external investment is huge and when fear is in the air, that money comes running back home. The evolution of the coronavirus spread can be seen in the yen’s movement as in the middle of February, when Japan itself was dealing with the growth in infections, the yen weakened to a point not seen in nearly a year. Since then, however, the yen has strengthened 7.5% (with a peak gain of 9.8% seen Monday) as flows have been decidedly one way. This morning the yen has appreciated 0.7% from yesterday’s close and quite frankly, until the pandemic starts to ebb, I see no reason for it to stop appreciating. Par will pose a short-term psychological support for the dollar, but if this goes on for another two months, 95 is in the cards. With that in mind, though, for all yen receivables hedgers, zero premium collars are looking awfully good here. Let’s talk, at the very least you should be apprised of the pricing.

Interestingly, the Swiss franc has had a somewhat less impressive performance despite its historic haven characteristics. While it has appreciated 4.5% in the same time frame, it has been having much more trouble during the latest equity market decline. And I think that is the reason why. Famously, the Swiss National Bank has 20% of its balance sheet invested in individual equities. This is a very different investment philosophy than virtually every other central bank. The genesis of this came about when the SNB was intervening on a daily basis while trying to cap the franc and ultimately needed a place to put the dollars and euros they were buying. I guess the view was stocks only go up, so let’s make some money too. Whatever the reason, as of December 31 the USD value of their equity portfolio was about $97.6 billion. I’m pretty confident that number is a lot lower today, and perhaps the idea about Swiss franc strength is being called into question. The franc is unchanged today and has been generally unimpressive for the past week.

Meanwhile, all eyes this morning are on Madame Lagarde and the ECB who will be announcing their latest policy initiatives shortly. While it is clearly expected they will do something, other than a 10bp cut in the deposit rate, to -0.60%, there is a great deal of uncertainty. Expectations range from expanding the TLTRO program with much more aggressive rates, as low as -2.00%, to a significant increase in QE to capping government bond yields. All of that would be remarkably dramatic and likely have a short-term positive impact on markets. But will it last? My sense is that until the Fed announces next week, and at this point I think they cut 100bps, markets will still be on edge. After all, the world continues to revolve around USD funding, and in times of crisis, foreign entities need access to USD liquidity. Look for more repo, more swap lines and maybe even a lending scheme although I don’t think the Fed can do something like that within their mandate.

Overall, the dollar is performing as the number two currency haven, after the yen, and has rallied sharply against commodity currencies in both the G10 and EMG spaces. For example, with oil down 5% this morning, NOK has fallen 3.6%, but both AUD and SEK are lower by 1.5% as well. In the emerging markets, Mexican peso continues to be the market’s whipping boy, falling a further 3.2% as I type, which takes its decline since the beginning of the month to 12.2%. meanwhile, the RUB is in similarly dire straits (-2.75% today, -11.5% in March) and we are seeing every single EMG currency lower vs. the dollar today. These are the nations that are desperate for USD liquidity and you can expect their currencies to continue to decline for the foreseeable future.

At this point, data is an afterthought, but it is still being released. Yesterday saw CPI rise a tick more than expected but the more interesting data point was Mortgage Applications, which jumped 55.4% as mortgage rates collapse alongside Treasury yields. This morning brings Initial Claims (exp 220K) and PPI (1.8%, 1.7% core) with far more interest in the former than the latter. Consider, given the enormous economic disruptions, it would be easy to see that number jump substantially, which would just be another signal for the Fed to act as aggressively as possible.

At this point, as the equity meltdown continues, the dollar should remain well supported vs. everything except the yen.

Good luck
Adf