Up, Up and Away

Said Powell, “We’re in a good place”
On growth, but we don’t like the pace
That prices are rising
And so we’re surmising
More QE’s what needs to take place

Today, then, we’ll hear from Christine
Who is now the ECB queen
This is her first chance
To proffer her stance
On policy and what’s foreseen

And finally, in the UK
The vote’s taking place through the day
If Boris does badly
Bears will sell pounds gladly
If not, it’s up, up and away

There is much to cover this morning, so let’s get right to it.

First the Fed. As universally expected they left rates on hold and expressed confidence that monetary policy was appropriate for the current conditions. They lauded themselves on the reduction in unemployment, but have clearly changed their views on just how low that number can go. Or perhaps, what they are recognizing is that the percentage of the eligible labor force that is actually at work, which forms the denominator in the unemployment rate, is too low, so that there is ample opportunity to encourage many who had left the workforce during the past decade to return thus increasing the amount of employment and likely helping the Unemployment Rate to edge even lower. While their forecasts continue to point to 3.5% as a bottom, private sector economists are now moving their view to the 3.0%-3.2% level as achievable.

On the inflation front, to say that they are unconcerned would greatly understate the case. They have made it abundantly clear that it will require a nearly unprecedented supply shock to have them consider raising rates anytime soon. However, they continue to kvetch about too low inflation and falling inflation expectations. They have moved toward a policy that will allow inflation to run higher than the “symmetric 2% target” for a while to make up for all the time spent below that level. And the implication is that if we see inflation start to trend lower at all, they will be quick to cut rates regardless of the economic growth and employment situation. Naturally, the fact that CPI printed a touch higher than expected (2.1%) was completely lost on them, but then given their ‘real-world blinders’ that is no real surprise. The dot plot indicated that they expect rates to remain on hold at the current level throughout all of 2020, which would be a first during a presidential election year.

And finally, regarding the ongoing concerns over the short term repo market and their current not-QE policy of buying $60 billion per month of Treasury bills, while Powell was unwilling to commit to a final solution, he did indicate that they could amend the policy to include purchases of longer term Treasury securities alongside the introduction of a standing repo facility. In other words, not-QE has the chance to look even more like QE than it currently does, regardless of what the Chairman says. Keep that in mind.

Next, it’s on to the ECB, which is meeting as I type, and will release its statement at 7:45 this morning followed by Madame Lagarde meeting the press at 8:30. It is clear there will be no policy changes, with rates remaining at -0.5% while QE continues at €20 billion per month. Arguably there are two questions to be answered here; what is happening with the sweeping policy review? And how will Madame Lagarde handle the press conference? Given she has exactly zero experience as a central banker, I think it is reasonable to assume that her press conferences will be much more political in nature than those of Signor Draghi and his predecessors. My fear is that she will stray from the topic at hand, monetary policy, and conflate it with her other, nonmonetary goals, which will only add confusion to the situation. That said, this is a learning process and I’m sure she will get ample feedback both internally and externally and eventually gain command of the situation. In the end, though, there is precious little the ECB can do at this point other than beg the Germans to spend some money while trying to fend off the hawks on the committee and maintain policy as it currently stands.

Turning to the UK election, the pound had been performing quite well as the market was clearly of the opinion that the Tories were going to win and that the Brexit uncertainty would finally end next month. However, the latest polls showed the Tory lead shrinking, and given the fragmentation in the electorate and the UK’s first-past-the-post voting process, it is entirely possible that the result is another hung Parliament which would be a disaster for the pound. The polls close at 5:00pm NY time (10:00pm local) and so it will be early evening before we hear the first indications of how things turn out. The upshot is a Tory majority is likely to see a further 1%-1.5% rally in the pound before it runs out of momentum. A hung Parliament could easily see us trade back down to 1.22 or so as all that market uncertainty returns, and a Labour victory would likely see an even larger decline as the combination of Brexit uncertainty and a program of renationalization of private assets would result in capital fleeing the UK ASAP. When we walk in tomorrow, all will be clear!

Clearly, those are the top stories today but there is still life elsewhere in the markets. Ffor example, the Turkish central bank cut rates more than expected, down to 12.0%, but the TRY managed to rally 0.25% after the fact. Things are clearly calming down there. In Asia, Indian inflation printed higher than expected at 5.54%, although IP there fell less than expected (-3.8%) and the currency impact netted to nil. The biggest gainer in the Far East was KRW, rising 0.65% after a strong performance by the KOSPI (+1.5%) and an analyst call for the KOSPI to rise 12% next year. But other than the won, the rest of the space saw much less movement, albeit generally gaining slightly after the Fed’s dovish stance.

In the G10, the pound has actually slipped a bit this morning, -0.2%, but otherwise, movement has been even smaller than that. Yesterday, after the Fed meeting, the dollar fell pretty sharply, upwards of 0.5% and essentially, the market has maintained those dollar losses this morning.

Looking ahead to the data today we see Initial Claims (exp 214K) and PPI (1.3%, 1.7% core). However, neither of those will have much impact. With the Fed meeting behind us, we will start to hear from its members again, but mercifully, not today. So Fed dovishness has been enough to encourage risk takers, and it looks for all the world like a modest risk-on session is what we have in store.

Good luck
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A Paean to John Maynard Keynes

The positive vibe still remains
Encouraging stock market gains
Likewise bonds are sold
With dollars and gold
In paeans to John Maynard Keynes

As the market walks in ahead of today’s jobs report, once again poor data has been set aside and the equity bulls are leading the parade to acquire more risk assets. Stock markets are rallying, bond markets selling off and there is pressure on gold and the dollar. Granted, the moves have not been too large, but the reality is that the default market activity is to buy stocks regardless of valuation.

Let’s start with a quick look at current data expectations:

Nonfarm Payrolls 183K
Private Payrolls 179K
Manufacturing Payrolls 40K
Unemployment Rate 3.6%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.0% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.4
Michigan Sentiment 97.0

Source: Bloomberg

These are all pretty good numbers, and if the forecasts are right, it would certainly reinforce the idea that the US economy is ticking over nicely. Of course, the problem is that we have seen some pretty bad data in the past week which may call this evaluation into question. Recall Monday’s terrible ISM Manufacturing data, as well as Wednesday’s double whammy of ISM Non-Manufacturing and ADP Employment, both of which sharply disappointed. While yesterday’s Durable Goods was right on the mark, I would argue that based on the data seen this week, the US economy is clearly slowing down into the fourth quarter.

Adding to the general gloom is the data we have seen from elsewhere, notably Europe, where this morning’s German IP report (-1.7%) was the worst monthly print since April and took the year on year decline to -5.3%, the slowest pace since the financial crisis in 2009! Remember, Factory orders in Germany were awful yesterday, and the PMI data, while not as bad as expected regarding manufacturing, was much worse than expected in the service sector. The point is Europe is clearly not going to be driving the global economy higher anytime soon.

And of course, the other main engine of growth, China, has continued to present a picture of an economy in slow decline with excess leverage and financial bubbles still abundant, and with a central bank that is having trouble deciding which problem to address, excess leverage or slowing growth.

With this as a starting point, it is easy to see why there are so many bears in the market. But there is an antidote to this unrequited bearishness…the Fed! While Chairman Powell has repeatedly explained that the FOMC’s current practice of purchasing $60 billion per month of Treasury bills is NOT QE, it is certainly QE. And remember, the Fed is not just purchasing T-bills, they are also adding liquidity through overnight, weekly and monthly repo operations on a regular basis. In fact, they are taking all the collateral offered and lending money against it, not even targeting an amount they want to add. It certainly appears that they are simply adding as much liquidity to the markets as possible to prevent any of those bears from gaining traction. So in reality, it is no real surprise that risk assets remain in demand.

In fact, the Fed’s ongoing active stance in the money markets has me reconsidering my long-held views on the dollar’s future. The macroeconomic story remains, in my estimation, a USD positive, but one need only look at the dollar’s performance during QE1, QE2 and QE3 where we saw dollar declines of 22%, 25% and 16% respectively to force one to reconsider those views. ‘Not QE’ could easily undermine the dollar’s strength and perhaps, despite the ECB’s ongoing efforts, drive the dollar much lower. In conversations with many clients, I have been hard pressed to come up with a scenario where the dollar falls sharply, short of another shocking US electoral outcome where, as a nation we vote for left wing populism, à la Senator Warren or Senator Sanders, rather than our current stance of right wing populism. However, if the Fed maintains its current stance, expanding the balance sheet and adding liquidity with abandon to the money markets, there is every reason to believe that the dollar will suffer. After all, we continue to run a massive current account deficit, alongside our trade and budget deficits, and we are flooding the markets with newly issued Treasury debt. At some point, and perhaps in the not too distant future, the market may well decide the US dollar is no longer the haven asset that it has been in the past. In any case, while I consider the issues, it would be sensible, in my estimation, for hedgers to consider them as well.

And with that cheery thought, let us look forward to this morning’s market activity. My sense is that the combination of modestly higher than expected Initial Claims data during the survey week, as well as weak ISM employment sub-indices, and of course, the weak ADP number, will result in a disappointing outcome today. I fear that we could see something as low as 100K, which could see a knee-jerk reaction lower in the dollar as expectations ratchet up for more Fed monetary ease.

One other thing to keep in mind is that as we approach year-end, market liquidity starts to dry up. There should be no problems today, nor next week, I expect, but after that, trading desks see staffing thin out for vacations and risk appetite for the banks shrinks significantly. Nobody wants to risk a good year, and nobody will overcome a bad one in the last week of the year. So to the extent possible, I strongly recommend taking care of year end activity by the end of next week for the best results.

Good luck and good weekend
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No Longer Appealing

Today pound bears seem to be feeling
That shorts are no longer appealing
The polls keep on showing
The Tory lead growing
Look for more complaining and squealing

As well, from the trade front we’ve heard
That progress has not been deterred
Some sources who know
Say Phase One’s a go
With rollbacks the latest watchword

Yesterday was so…yesterday. All of that angst over the trade deal falling apart after President Trump indicated that he was in no hurry to complete phase one has completely disappeared this morning after a story hit the tape citing ‘people familiar with the talks’. It seems that the president was merely riffing in front of the cameras, but the real work has been ongoing between Mnuchin, Lighthizer and Liu He, and that progress is being made. Naturally, the market response was to immediately buy back all the stocks sold yesterday and so this morning we see equity markets in Europe higher across the board (DAX +1.1%, CAC +1.3%) and US futures pointing higher as well (DJIA +0.5%, SPY +0.45%). Alas, that story hit the tape too late for Asia, which was still reeling from yesterday’s negative sentiment. Thus, the Nikkei (-1.1%), Hang Seng (-1.25%) and Shanghai (-0.25%) all suffered overnight.

At the same time, this morning has seen pound Sterling trade to its highest level since May as the latest polls continue to show the Tory lead running around twelve percentage points. Even with the UK’s first-past-the-poll electoral system, this is seen as sufficient to result in a solid majority in Parliament, and recall, every Tory candidate pledged to support the withdrawal agreement renegotiated by Boris. With this in mind, we are witnessing a steady short squeeze in the currency, where the CFTC statistics have shown the size of the short Sterling position has fallen by half in the past month. As a comparison, the last time short positions were reduced this much, the pound was trading at 1.32 which seems like a pretty fair target for the top. Quite frankly, this has all the earmarks of a buy the rumor (Tory victory next week) sell the news (when it actually happens) situation. In fact, I think the risk reward above 1.30 is decidedly in favor of a sharper decline rather than a much stronger rally. Again, for Sterling receivables hedgers, I think adding to positions during the next week will be seen as an excellent result.

Away from the pound, however, the dollar is probably stronger rather than weaker this morning. One of the reasons is that after the euro’s strong performance on Monday, there has been absolutely no follow-through in the market. Remember, that euro strength was built on the back of the dichotomy of slightly stronger than expected Eurozone PMI data, indicating stabilization on the Continent, as well as much weaker than expected US ISM data, indicating things here were not so great after all. Well, this morning we saw the other part of the PMI data, the Services indices, and across all of the Eurozone, the data was weaker than expected. This is a problem for the ECB because they are building their case for any chance of an eventual normalization of policy on the idea that the European consumer is going to support the economy even though manufacturing is in recession. If the consumer starts backing away, you can expect to see much less appealing data from the Eurozone, and the euro will be hard-pressed to rally any further. As I have maintained for quite a while, the big picture continues to favor the dollar vs. the rest of the G10 as the US remains the most robust economy in the world.

Elsewhere in the G10, Australia is today’s major underperformer as the day after the RBA left rates on hold and expressed less concern about global economic issues, they released weak PMI data, 49.7, and saw Q3 GDP print at a lower than expected 0.4%. The point here is that the RBA may be trying to delay the timing of their next rate cut, but unless China manages to turn itself around, you can be certain that the RBA will be cutting again early next year.

In the EMG bloc, the biggest loser was KRW overnight, falling 0.6% on yesterday’s trade worries. Remember, the positive story didn’t come out until after the Asian session ended. In fact, the won has been falling pretty sharply lately, down 3.5% in the past month and tracking quickly toward 1200. However, away from Korea, the EMG space is looking somewhat better in this morning’s risk-on environment with ZAR the big gainer, up 0.5%. What is interesting about this result is the South African PMI data printed at 48.6, nearly a point worse than expected. But hey, when risk is on, traders head for the highest yielders they can find.

Looking to this morning’s US session, we get two pieces of data starting with ADP Employment (exp 135K) at 8:15 and then ISM Non-Manufacturing at 10:00 (54.5). Quite frankly, both of these are important pieces of data in my mind as the former will be seen as a precursor to Friday’s NFP report and the latter will be scrutinized to determine if Monday’s ISM data was a fluke, or something for more concern. The ISM data will also offer a direct contrast to the weak Eurozone PMI data this morning, so a strong print is likely to see the euro head back toward 1.10.

And that’s really it today. Risk is back on, the pound is rolling and whatever you thought you knew from yesterday is ancient history.

Good luck
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A Future Quite Bright

The data from China last night
Implied that growth might be all right
The PMI rose
And everyone knows
That points to a future quite bright!

Is it just me? Or does there seem to be something of a dichotomy when discussing the situation in China? This morning has a decidedly risk-on tone as equity markets in Asia (Nikkei +1.0%, Hang Seng +0.4%, Shanghai +0.15%) rallied after stronger than expected Chinese PMI data was released Friday night. For the record, the official Manufacturing PMI rose to 50.2, its first print above 50.0 since April, while the non-Manufacturing version rose to 54.4, its highest print since March. Then, this morning the Caixin PMI data, which focuses on smaller companies, also printed a bit firmer than expected at 51.8. These data releases were sufficient to encourage traders and investors to scoop up stocks while they dumped bonds. After all, everything is just ducky now, right?

And yet…there are still two major issues outstanding that have no obvious short-term solution, both of which can easily deteriorate into a much worse situation overall. The first, of course, is the trade fiasco situation, where despite comments from both sides that progress has been made, there is no evidence that progress has been made. At least, there is no timeline for the completion of phase one and lately there has been no discussion of determining a location to sign said deal. Certainly it appears that the current risk profile in markets is highly dependent on a successful conclusion of these talks, at least as evidenced by the fact that every pronouncement of an impending deal results in a stock market rally.

The second issue is the ongoing uprising in Hong Kong. China has begun to use stronger language to condemn the process, and is extremely unhappy with the US for passing the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act last week. However, based on China’s response, we know two things: first that completing a trade deal is more important than words about Hong Kong. This was made clear when the “harsh” penalties imposed in the wake of the Act’s passage consisted of sanctions on US-based human rights groups that don’t operate in China and the prevention of US warships from docking in Hong Kong. While the latter may seem harsh, that has already been the case for the past several months. In other words, fears that the Chinese would link this law to the trade talks proved unfounded, which highlights the fact that the Chinese really need these talks to get completed.

The second thing we learned is that China remains highly unlikely to do anything more than complain about what is happening in Hong Kong as they recognize a more aggressive stance would result in much bigger international relationship problems. Of course, the ongoing riots in Hong Kong have really begun to damage the economy there. For example, Retail Sales last night printed at -24.3%! Not only was this worse than expected, but it was the lowest in history, essentially twice as large a decline as during the financial crisis. GDP there is forecast to fall by nearly 3.0% this year, and unless this is solved soon, it seems like 2020 isn’t going to get any better. But clearly, none of the troubles matter because, after all, PMI rose to 50.2!
Turning to Europe, PMI data also printed a hair better than expected, but the manufacturing sector remains in dire straits. Germany saw a rise to 44.1 while France printed at 51.7 and the Eurozone Composite at 46.9. All three were slightly higher than the flash data from last week, but all three still point to a manufacturing recession across the continent. And the biggest problem is that the jobs sub-indices were worse than expected. At the same time, Germany finds itself with a little political concern as the ruling coalition’s junior partner, the Social Democrats, just booted out their leadership and replaced it with a much more left wing team who are seeking changes in the coalition agreement. While there has been no call for a snap election, that probability just increased, and based on the most recent polls, there is no obvious government coalition with both the far left and far right continuing to gain votes at the expense of the current government. While this is not an immediate problem, it cannot bode well if Europe’s largest economy is moving toward internal political upheaval, which means it will pay far less attention to Eurozone wide issues. This news cannot be beneficial for the euro, although this morning’s 0.1% decline is hardly newsworthy.

Finally, with less than two weeks remaining before the British (and Scottish, Welch and Northern Irish) go to the polls, the Conservatives still hold between a 9 and 11 point lead, depending on which poll is considered, but that lead has been shrinking slightly. Pundits are quick to recall how Theresa May called an election in the wake of the initial Brexit vote when the polls showed the Tories with a large lead, but that she squandered that lead and wound up quite weakened as a result. At this point, it doesn’t appear that Boris has done the same thing, but stranger things have happened. At any rate, the FX market appears reasonably confident that the Tories will win, maintaining the pound above 1.29, although unwilling to give it more love until the votes are in. I expect that barring any very clear gaffes, the pound will range trade ahead of the election and in the event of a Tory victory, see a modest rally. If we have a PM Corbyn, though, be prepared for a pretty sharp decline.

Looking ahead to this week, we have a significant amount of US data, culminating in the payroll report on Friday:

Today ISM Manufacturing 49.2
  ISM Prices Paid 47.0
  Construction Spending 0.4%
Wednesday ADP Employment 140K
  ISM Non-Manufacturing 54.5
Thursday Initial Claims 215K
  Trade Balance -$48.6B
  Factory Orders 0.3%
  Durable Goods 0.6%
  -ex Transport 0.6%
Friday Nonfarm Payrolls 190K
  Private Payrolls 180K
  Manufacturing Payrolls 40K
  Unemployment Rate 3.6%
  Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.0% Y/Y)
  Average Weekly Hours 34.4
  Michigan Sentiment 97.0

Source: Bloomberg

As we have seen elsewhere around the world, the manufacturing sector in the US remains under pressure, but the services sector remains pretty robust. But overall, if the data prints as expected, it is certainly evidence that the US economy remains in significantly better shape than that of most of the rest of the world. And it has been this big picture story that has underpinned the dollar’s strength overall. Meanwhile, with the Fed meeting next week, they are in their quiet period, so there will be no commentary regarding policy until the next statement and press conference. In fact, next week is set to be quite interesting with the FOMC, the UK election and then US tariffs slated to increase two weeks from yesterday.

And yet, despite what appear to be numerous challenges, risk remains the primary choice of investors. As such, equities are higher and bonds are selling off although the dollar remains stuck in the middle for now. We will need to get more news before determining which way things are likely to break for the buck in the near term.

Good luck
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The Final Throes

Trump said that he now could disclose
Trade talks have reached “the final throes”
We soon will reveal
A fabulous deal
Designed to increase our trade flows

Imagine, for a moment, that you are the leader of the largest nation (by population) on earth and that you run the place with an iron grip. (Or at least you continue to imply to the outside world that is the case.) Imagine, also, that your only geopolitical rival, with far fewer people but far more money, has completely changed the ground rules regarding how business will be transacted going forward, totally upsetting intricately created supply chains that have been hugely profitable and beneficial to your country over the past two decades. And finally, imagine that for the past eighteen months, a series of unforeseen events (increasingly violent protests in a recalcitrant province, devastating epidemic of a virus decimating your nation’s protein supply, etc.) have combined with the rule changes to significantly slow your economy’s growth rate. (Remember, this growth rate is crucial to maintaining order in your nation.) What’s a despot leader to do?

It can be no real surprise that the US and China are moving closer to completing a phase one trade deal because the importance of completing said deal has grown on both sides of the table. We saw evidence of this earlier in the week when the Chinese changed their tune on IP theft; an issue they had previously maintained did not exist, but are now willing to codify as criminal. And with every lousy piece of Chinese data (last night Industrial Profits fell 9.9%, their largest decline since 2011 and further evidence of the slowing growth trajectory on the mainland) the pressure on President Xi increases to do something to arrest the decline. Meanwhile, though the US economy seems to be ticking along reasonably well (at least according to every Fed speaker and as evidenced by daily record high closings in the US equity markets) the other issues in Washington are pushing on President Trump to make a deal and score a big win politically.

With this as a backdrop, I expect that we will continue to hear positive comments regarding the trade deal from both sides and that prior to the December 15 imposition of new tariffs by the US, we will have something more concrete, including a timetable to sign the deal. And so, there is every reason to believe that risk appetite will continue to be whetted and that equity markets will continue to perform well through the rest of 2019 and arguably into the beginning of 2020.

It is easy to list all the concerns that exist for an investor as they are manifest everywhere. Consider: excess corporate leverage, a global manufacturing recession, anemic global growth, $14 trillion of negative yielding debt globally, and, of course, the still unresolved US-China trade issues and crumbling of seventy years of globalization infrastructure. And that doesn’t even touch on the non-financial, but still economic issues of wealth and income inequality and the growing number of protests around the world by those on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder (Chile, Colombia, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Lebanon, and even Hong Kong and France’s gilets jaunes). And yet, risk appetite remains strong.

The point I am trying to make is that there is quite a dichotomy between financial market, specifically equity market, behavior and the economic and political situation around the world. The question I would ask is; how long can this dichotomy be maintained? Every bear’s fear is that there will be some minor catalyst that has an extremely outsized impact on risk pricing causing a significant decline. Bears constantly point to all those things mentioned above, and more, and are firm in their collective belief that the central bank community, which may be the only thing holding risk asset prices higher, is running out of ammunition. Certainly I agree with the latter point, they are running out of ammunition, but as Lord John Maynard Keynes was reputed to have said, “Markets can remain irrational far longer than you can remain solvent.”

As of right now, there is no evidence that any of the above mentioned issues are relevant to market pricing decisions. So what is relevant? Based on the almost complete lack of price movement in the FX market for the past several sessions, I would say nothing is relevant. Every day we walk in and the euro or the yen or the pound or the renminbi is within a few basis points of the previous day’s levels. Trading appetite has diminished and implied volatility continues to track to new lows almost daily. In fact, especially for those hedgers who are paying significantly to manage balance sheet risks, it almost seems like it is not worth the money to continue doing so. But I assure you that it is worth the cost. This is not the first time we have seen an extended period of market malaise in FX (2007-8 and 2014 come to mind) and in both those cases we saw a significant rebound in activity in the wake of a surprising catalyst (financial crisis, oil market crash). Do not be caught out when the current market attitude changes.

With that, rather long-winded, opening, a look at markets today shows that every G10 currency is within 15bps of yesterday’s closing levels. And those levels were similarly close to the previous day’s levels. There has been a distinct lack of data, and really very little commentary by central bank officials. Even in the emerging markets, activity generally remains muted. I will grant that the Chilean peso (-0.6%) has been a dog lately, but that is entirely related to the ongoing protests in that country and the fact that investors are exiting rapidly. But elsewhere, movement remains less than 0.3% except for in South Africa, where the rand has actually gained 0.5% as demand increases for their bond issuance today. In a world where a third of sovereign debt carries negative interest rates, 8% and 9% coupons are incredibly attractive!

On the data front, with Thanksgiving tomorrow, we see a ton of stuff today:

Initial Claims 221K
Q2 GDP 1.9%
Durable Goods -0.9%
-ex Transport 0.1%
Chicago PMI 47.0
Personal Income 0.3%
Personal Spending 0.3%
Core PCE 0.1% (1.7% Y/Y)
Fed’s Beige Book  

We should certainly learn if the growth trajectory in the US remains solid before the morning is over, and I expect that the dollar may respond accordingly, with strong data supporting the greenback and vice versa. But the thing is, given the holiday tomorrow, liquidity will be somewhat impaired, especially this afternoon. So if you still have things that you need to get done in November, I cannot stress strongly enough that executing early today is in your best interest.

Overall, the dollar continues to hold its own despite the risk-on attitude, but I have a feeling that is because we are seeing international investors buy dollars to buy US equities. At this point, there is no reason to believe that process will change, so I like the dollar to continue to edge higher over time.

Good luck and have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday
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Quite a Breakthrough

Is stealing IP now taboo?
If so that is quite a breakthrough
Now maybe Phase One
Can finally be done
Or is this just more déjà vu?

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before; a phase one trade deal is really close! For the umpteenth time in the past six months, this is the story driving markets this morning, although, in fairness, today’s version may have a bit more substance to it. That substance comes from an announcement by China that they are going to institute penalties on IP theft and potentially lower the threshold for considering criminal punishments for those convicted of the crime. This, of course, has been one of the key US demands in the negotiations thus far and the fact that the Chinese have conceded the argument is actually quite a big deal. Recall, if you will, that when this entire process started, the Chinese wouldn’t even admit that the practice was ongoing. Now they are considering enshrining the criminality of these actions into law. That is a huge change. Perhaps the current US stance in the negotiations is beginning to bear fruit.

Given this positive turn in the discussions, it should be no surprise that risk assets are in demand today and we are seeing equity markets rally around the world. Overnight in Asia, we saw strength across the board (Nikkei +0.8%, Hang Seng +1.5%, Shanghai +0.7%) and we are seeing solid gains in Europe as well (DAX +0.4%, CAC +0.3%, FTSE 100 +0.8%). The two outliers, Hong Kong and London have additional positive stories to boot. In Hong Kong the weekend’s local council elections resulted in the highest turnout in years and not surprisingly, given the ongoing protests for democracy, the pro-democracy candidates won 85% of the seats. HK Chief Executive Carrie Lam was quick to respond by explaining the government will listen carefully to the public on this issue. One other aspect of the elections was that they were completely peaceful, with no violence anywhere in the city this weekend, a significant difference to recent activity there, and that was also seen as a risk positive outcome.

Meanwhile, in the UK, PM Boris Johnson released his election manifesto and it was far more sensible than his predecessor’s attempt three years ago. While it included spending promises on infrastructure and increased hiring of nurses for the National Health Service, there were few other spending categories. Of course, he did remind everyone that a Tory majority will allow him to deliver Brexit by January 31 and he assured that the trade deal would be complete by the end of 2020. The latest polls show that the Tories lead 42% to 30% for Labour with the rest still split amongst minor players. Also, a Datapraxis study shows that on current form, the Tories will win 349 of the 650 seats in Parliament, a solid majority that will allow Boris to implement his policies handily. Given this news less than three weeks from the election, investors and traders are becoming increasingly bullish on the outcome and the pound has benefitted accordingly this morning, rising 0.3%. Now, it is still well below the levels seen last month, when it briefly peeked over 1.30 in the euphoria that Boris was going to get Brexit done by October 31. But, it is today’s clear winner in the G10 space.

Away from the pound, the rest of the G10 space has been quite dull, with the euro slipping a scant 0.1% after German IFO data showed that while the economy may not be getting worse, it is not yet getting much better. In keeping with the equity driven risk-on theme, the yen is softer this morning as well, -0.2%, but that is entirely risk related.

Turning to the EMG space, there has been a touch more activity but still nothing remarkable. On the positive side we see CLP rising 0.7% which has all the earmarks of a position consolidation after a very troubled couple of weeks. There has been no specific news although a background story has been focused on shifts in the local pension scheme. It seems there are five funds, labeled A through E with A the most aggressive, invested 60% in international equities, while E is the most conservative, investing 92% in local fixed income assets. It seems that in the wake of the protests, there was a substantial shift into the A fund, which has outperformed given the peso’s weakness. However, it now appears that local investment advisors are highlighting the benefits of the E fund which will result in CLP purchases and corresponding CLP strength. This is certainly consistent with the idea that risk is back in vogue so perhaps we have seen the worst in CLP. But otherwise, nothing much of interest here either.

During this holiday shortened week, we actually get a decent amount of data with most of it released Wednesday morning.

Tuesday Case Shiller Home Prices 3.30%
  New Home Sales 707K
  Consumer Confidence 127.0
Wednesday Initial Claims 221K
  Q3 GDP 1.9%
  Durable Goods -0.8%
  -ex Transport 0.1%
  Chicago PMI 46.9
  Personal Income 0.3%
  Personal Spending 0.3%
  Core PCE 0.1% (1.7% Y/Y)
  Fed’s Beige Book  

Source: Bloomberg

In addition to this, where my sense is the market will be most focused on the Personal Income and Spending data, we hear from Chairman Powell later this evening. While it is always an event when a Fed chair speaks, it seems pretty unlikely that we are going to learn anything new here. At this stage, it has been made quite clear that the Fed is on hold for the foreseeable future. If that is not the message, then you can look for market fireworks.

So the session today is shaping up to be risk focused which means that away from the yen and maybe Swiss franc, I expect the dollar to be softer rather than firmer.

Good luck
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Centrists’ Dismay

In three weeks and some the UK
Will head to the polls and convey
To markets worldwide
If Brexit’s the side
They favor, to centrists’ dismay

In London today, and all week actually, the Confederation of British Industry is having their annual conference. As such, both Boris and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will be addressing the largest UK trade association to describe their views of the future based on an electoral victory on December 12. In brief, Boris is promising certainty with regard to Brexit as well as some tax cuts and spending on goodies. Meanwhile, Corbyn is promising to nationalize certain industries (British Telecom to give “free” high speed internet access to everyone in the country and the National Energy Grid to force more green activity and decisions) in order to achieve his party’s goal of poverty equality for all.

However, the weekend’s polls show that Boris is expanding his lead with the average result now showing the Tories with 42%, Labour with 30%, the LibDems at 14% and the rest of the assorted parties making up the balance. Arguably, the biggest weekend news was that every Tory running for a seat has signed a pledge to support the Brexit deal if elected. In essence, the Tories are leading and projected to get a majority, and they have pledged to complete Brexit. The market response has been pretty positive, at least the FX market, with the pound rallying a further 0.5% this morning after having rallied 1.0% last week. In fact, at 1.2950, we are pushing back to the highs seen in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit deal changes. As I have maintained since the election was called, I expect Boris to win and Brexit to go ahead shortly thereafter. At this point, it certainly seems like the UK will be out of the EU by the current January 31 deadline. As to the pound, I think we can see a move to 1.32-1.34, but probably not much more at this point. We will need to see significant progress on the ensuing trade agreement with the EU to see much further strength.

Other weekend news of note showed that the PBOC cut its seven-day repo rate by 5bps, to 2.50%, which despite the tiny movement cheered both traders and investors. Later this week, they will reveal the 1-year Loan Prime Rate, which is their new benchmark interest rate, and anticipation has grown they will be reducing that as well. The lesson here is that managing inflation, which has been rising rapidly due to the explosive growth in food, notably pork, prices, is a secondary concern. Instead, due to the fact that the economy is slowing even more rapidly, as evidenced by last week’s terrible Retail Sales and IP numbers, the PBOC’s marching orders are clearly to support GDP growth. Remember, despite the fact that President Xi is president for life, if GDP growth slows and unemployment rises, he will have some serious problems. In fact, it is this situation which has most pundits certain that a trade deal with the US will get signed. Both presidents need a win, and this is a relatively easy one for both.

Speaking of the trade deal, there was a high-level conversation over the weekend, between Liu He and the tag team of Mnuchin and Lighthizer, and both sides indicated progress continues to be made. That said, there is no indication that an agreement on where the presidents will meet to sign a deal has been reached, let alone an actual agreement on the deal. So, much remains to be done before this process is finished, but I am confident that we will read a string of positive tweets on a regular basis beforehand. Meanwhile, the PBOC’s modest rate cut had only a minor impact on the renminbi, which continues to trade just below (dollar above) the 7.00 level. Until a deal is finalized, it is hard to make a case for a large movement.

One last noteworthy item is from South Africa, where S&P has changed its outlook to negative from neutral. This is often a precursor for a ratings cut, and given S&P already has the country firmly in junk territory, at BB, Moody’s decision to maintain its investment grade rating last month seems more and more out of place. The rand is under pressure this morning, down 0.4%, although it remains closer to the top of its recent trading range than the bottom. What that means is there is ample opportunity for the rand to decline more sharply if there is any hint that Moody’s is going to move. The problem for South Africa is that if Moody’s changes them to junk, the nation’s debt will fall out of the MSCI global bond index and there could be as much as $15 billion of net sales. The rand would not receive that warmly, and a quick move back to the 15.50 level is to be expected in that case.

And those are the big stories this morning. Generally, I would characterize the markets as in a modest risk-on mode, with the dollar slightly softer, the yen and Swiss franc as well, while Treasury yields have edged higher and equity markets have edged higher as well. But, overall, it is pretty dull.

Looking ahead to the data releases this week, there is nothing of major consequence with Housing the focus:

Tuesday Housing Starts 1320K
  Building Permits 1381K
Wednesday FOMC Minutes  
Thursday Philly Fed 6.0
  Initial Claims 218K
  Leading Indicators -0.2%
  Existing Home Sales 5.49M
Friday Michigan Sentiment 95.7

While we do see the Minutes on Wednesday, given the onslaught of Fed speakers and consistency of message we have received since the last meeting, it seems hard to believe that we will learn anything new. One thing to watch closely is the Initial Claims data, which last week printed at 225K, higher than expected and where another higher than expected print could easily kick off a narrative of slowing employment, something that has much larger implications. There are a few Fed speakers, with uber-hawk Loretta Mester regaling us twice this week, although, again, it seems we have already heard everything there is to hear.

So today is shaping up to be quiet, with the modest risk-on behavior likely to continue to soften the dollar. We will need something bigger (e.g. a successful trade deal confirmed by both sides) in order to shake things up in my view.

Good luck
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