Prices So Low

Since distancing, social, has spread
Demand for petroleum’s bled
Its price has declined
As less is refined
Is OPEC now near its deathbed?

Well, last night the Chinese explained
They’d not let reserves there be drained
With prices so low
Their stockpile they’ll grow
Thus, Pesos and Rubles have gained

One cannot be surprised by the fact that the sharp decline in the price of oil has prompted some nations to take the opportunity to top up their strategic reserves of the stuff. Last night, the story came out that China was going to do just that. In addition to the mooted plans to purchase upwards of 100 million barrels, there is also discussion that they are going to increase the size of their storage facilities. This serves a twofold purpose; first to allow them more storage, but second it is a clear short-term economic stimulus for the country as well, something they are desperately seeking given the quickly slowing growth trajectories of their major export markets.

The market response to the story has been exactly as would be expected, with oil prices surging (both WTI and Brent are higher by a bit more than 10% as I type) and petrocurrencies NOK, RUB and MXN, all rallying nicely as well. At least, that’s how they started the session. Approaching 7:00am in NY, NOK is by far the leading gainer in the G10 space, jumping 1.6% without the benefit of central bank intervention, as any rebound in oil, no matter how short-lived, is a positive for the country and by extension its currency.

The emerging market petros, though, are having a bit of a tougher time of it. Earlier, both the ruble and Mexican peso were firmer by well more than 1% compared with yesterday’s closing levels, but in the past hour, we have seen both give up the bulk of those gains. It just goes to show how difficult it is going to be for some currencies to rebound in the short run. This is because, a 10% rally in oil still leaves it at $22/bbl or so, far below the cost of production and not nearly enough to stem either nation’s fiscal woes. By the way, this is still far below the cost of shale oil production as well. In fact, the only country that really has a production cost below the current market price is Saudi Arabia. But in FX terms that doesn’t really matter as the riyal is fixed to the dollar.

Away from that story, though, financial and economic stories are thin on the ground, with most simply a rehash or update of ongoing themes. For instance, we already know that virtually every developed country is adding fiscal support to their economies, but there have been no new reports of additional stimulus. We already know that virtually every developed country’s central bank has added monetary support to their economies, but, if anything, the overnight stories were complaints that it wasn’t coming fast enough. To wit, the RBNZ is being chastised for not expanding its QE purchases quickly enough as market participants anticipate a significant increase in debt issuance by the government. That said, however, kiwi is a top performer today, rising 0.65% on the back of the Chinese oil story and the knock-on effects of renewed Chinese growth.

Otherwise, the news is almost entirely about the virus and its impacts on healthcare systems around the world, as well as the evolving story about the Chinese having underreported their caseload and by extension, distorting the medical community’s understanding of key features of the pathogen, namely its level of contagion and lethality. But that is all in the political realm, not the market realm.

Yesterday’s equity market decline has stopped for now with European indices modestly higher at this point, generally less than 1%, although US futures are looking a bit perkier, with all of them up by more than that 1% marker. Bond markets are under a bit of pressure, as investors are tentatively reaching out to acquire some risk, with yields in most government bond markets edging higher by a few bps this morning. Treasuries, which had seen a 4bp rise earlier in the session, though, have now rallied back to unchanged on the day.

And if one wants to look at the dollar more broadly, away from the NOK and NZD, the pound is firmer (+0.5% and it has really been holding up remarkably well lately), and CAD and AUD are both firmer by about 0.3% on the back of the oil/China positive story. On the downside, the euro cannot find a bid, falling 0.4% this morning, as the focus turns back to the rampant spread of Covid-19 in both Italy and Spain, as well as how much the German economy will suffer throughout the crisis.

In the EMG space, TRY (+0.5%) has been the top performer after confirmed FX intervention in the markets, but otherwise, despite what seems to be a modestly better tone to markets this morning, no other currency in the space is more than 0.1% firmer. On the downside, ZAR is the loser du jour, falling more than 1% and reaching a new historic low as interest rates in the country decline thus reducing its attractiveness as an investment destination.

This morning’s data brings Initial Claims (exp 3.7M) which has everybody atwitter given just how uncertain this outcome is. The range of estimates is from 800K to 6.5M which is another way of saying nobody has a clue. The one thing of which we can be certain is that it will be a large number. Interestingly, yesterday’s ADP number showed many fewer job losses than expected, which implies that tomorrow’s payroll data will also not give an accurate picture of the current situation. The survey week came before the real shutdowns began, so we will need to wait until the April data, not released until May 8, to get a better picture. And what’s interesting about that is, if the current timeline of a resumption of more normal activity by the end of April comes to pass, that data, while showing the depths of the problem, will no longer be that informative either. The lesson from this is that it may still be quite some time before data serves as a market driver like in the past, especially the NFP report.

Summing up, despite a modestly better attitude toward risk this morning, the dollar continues to be the place to be. Ultimately, until global dollar liquidity demand ebbs, I expect that we are going to see the greenback maintain its strength.

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

 

Truly a Beast

The PMI data released
Showed just how fast growth has decreased
Tis services that
Have fallen so flat
This virus is truly a beast

But yesterday two bits of news
May help prevent any more blues
The Fed started things
By spreading their wings
And buying all debt that accrues

As well, in a break from the past
The Germans decided at last
To open the taps
As well as, perhaps
Support debt Italians amassed

And finally, where it began
The virus, that is, in Wuhan
Two months from their dawn
Restrictions are gone
Defining the lockdown’s lifespan

Markets have a much better tone this morning as traders and investors react to two very important responses to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis. The first thing that is getting a positive, albeit delayed, response is the Fed’s enactment of a series of new programs including support for CP, mortgage-backed securities, primary dealers and money market funds as well as embarking on QE Infinity, buying $75 billion of Treasuries and $50 billion of mortgage-backed securities every day this week, and then on into the future. Previous concerns about the size of the Fed’s balance sheet relative to the US economy have been completely dismissed, and you can bet that we will soon see a Fed balance sheet with $10 trillion in assets, nearly 50% as large as the economy. But the announcement, while at first not getting quite the positive impact desired, seems to be filtering through into analysis and is definitely seen in a more positive light this morning than yesterday at this time.

The second piece of news was that not only is Germany going to embark on a €750 billion spending program to help the economy, but, more importantly, they are willing to support Italy via European wide programs like the European Stability Mechanism, and even jointly issued coronaviru bonds, to prevent a further catastrophe there. In truth, that seems to be a bigger deal than the Fed, as the long-term implications are much greater and point to a real chance that the European experiment of integration could eventually work. If they move down the path to jointly issue and support debt available to all members, that is a massive change, and likely a long term positive for the single currency. We have to see if they will actually go forward, but it is the most promising structural comment in Europe in years, perhaps even since the euro was formed.

However, we cannot forget that the current reality remains harsh, and were reminded of such by this morning’s Flash PMI data, which, unsurprisingly, fell to record lows throughout Europe and the UK. Services were hit much harder than Manufacturing with readings of 29.0 in France, 34.5 in Germany, 31.4 in the Eurozone and 35.7 in the UK. Japan also released their data, which was equally dismal at 32.7 for Services PMI there. And they added to the story by releasing Department Store Sales, which fell a healthy 12.2%. Of course, everyone knows that the data is going to be awful for the time being, and since we saw China’s PMI data last month, this was expected. Granted, analysts had penciled in slightly higher numbers, but let’s face it, everybody was simply guessing. Let’s put it this way, we are going to see horrific data for at least the next month, so it will have to be extraordinarily bad to really garner a negative market reaction. This is already built into the price structure. While the US has historically looked far more closely at ISM data, to be released next week, than PMI data, we do see the US numbers later this morning, with forecasts at 42.0 for Services and 43.5 for Manufacturing.

So the data is not the driver today, which has seen a more classic risk-on framework, rather I think it is not only the absorption of the Fed and German actions, but also, perhaps, the news from Wuhan that the restrictions on travel, imposed on January 23, are being lifted, nearly two months to the day after imposition. Arguably, that defines the maximum lockdown period, although yesterday President Trump hinted that the US period will be much shorter, with 14 or 15 days mooted. If that is the case, and I would place the start date as this week, we are looking at heading back to our offices come April 6. If the Fed is successful in preventing financial institution collapse, and Congress finally passes a stimulus bill to address the massive income dislocation that is ongoing, (which they will almost certainly do in the next two days), there is every chance that while Q2 GDP will be hit hard, the panic inducing numbers of -30% GDP growth (Morgan Stanley’s forecast) or -50% GDP growth (St Louis Fed President Bullard’s forecast), will be referred to as the height of the panic. We shall see.

But taking a look at markets this morning, we see the dollar under pressure across the board, with the Norwegian krone today’s champion, rallying 5.4% as a follow on to yesterday’s reversal and ultimate 1.2% gain. But the pound has bounced 2.0% this morning along with SEK and AUD is higher by 1.7%. It is entirely possible that what we are seeing is a relief in the funding markets as the Fed’s actions have made USD available more widely around the world and reduced some of that pressure.

EMG markets are seeing similar strength in their currencies, led by MXN (+2.6%) and HUF (+2.3%), but every currency in both blocs is higher vs. the greenback today. Equity markets are all green as well, with major rallies in Asia (Nikkei +7.1%, Hang Seng +4.5%, Shanghai +2.7%) and Europe (DAX +6.25%, CAC +5.25%, FTSE 100 +4.0%) with US equity futures limit up in all three indices. Bonds, meanwhile, have sold off slightly, with yields higher in both the US and Germany by 2bps. I think given the overall backdrop, bonds are unlikely to sell off sharply anytime soon, especially given the central bank promises to buy unlimited quantities of them.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention gold, which is up 2.5% today and 6.2% since Friday’s close as investors realize that all the money printing and fiscal stimulus is likely to lead to a much different view on inflation, namely that it is going to rise in the future.

Volatility remains the watchword as 5% daily moves in the equity market, even when they are up moves, remain extremely taxing on all trading activities. Market liquidity remains suspect in most markets, with bid-ask spreads still far wider than we’ve come to expect. Forward FX spreads of 5-10 pips for dates under 1 year are not uncommon in the majors, let alone in things like MXN or BRL. Keep that in mind as you prepare for your balance sheet rolling programs later this week.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Has Panic Subsided?

This morning a look at the screen
Shows everything coming up green
Has panic subsided?
Or is it misguided
To think that a bottom’s been seen?

It certainly feels less frightening in markets this morning as assets of all nature, equity, commodity and fixed income, are rallying nicely and the panic buying of dollars seems to have ended for the time being. Of course, this is an interesting outcome if one reads the news, given that virus stories have not only continued apace, but the statistics and government responses are getting more draconian. Arguably, the biggest story is that the entire state of California, with its population of 40 million, has been put on lockdown, with stay-at-home restrictions imposed by the Governor. By itself, California is, famously, the fifth largest economy in the world, just ahead of the UK, so the idea that economic activity there is going to come screeching to a halt cannot be seen as a positive. At least not in the short term. In addition, virus related deaths in Italy have now surpassed those from China, and further personal restrictions are being contemplated by PM Conte in order to get a handle on the situation. Thus, the fact remains that Italy is in dire straits from an economic perspective, again at least in the short term. Yet the FTSE MIB (the main Italian stock market index) is higher by 3.8% as I type this morning.

This all begs the question, why are markets reversing course from what has been several hellacious weeks of price declines? Let’s consider a few possible reasons:

It could be that the combination of expanded central bank and government activity around the world has finally achieved a point where investors believe that apocalyptic scenarios overstate the case.

While this is possible, it seems a bit far-fetched to believe that in the course of 36 hours, investors have suddenly decided to accept all the actions, and there have been many, have done the job.

A recap of the major actions shows:
• ECB creates €750 billion PEPP as additional QE measures
• Fed extends USD swap lines to 9 additional central banks to allow USD liquidity to reach all G10 nations and several more developed EMG nations like South Korea
• Fed creates money market fund liquidity backstop to insure that CP issuance by US corporates is able to continue and companies are able to fund operations
• BOJ added ¥5.3 trillion in liquidity to markets while snapping up ¥201 billion of new ETF’s
• RBA cut rates by 0.25%, added new liquidity to markets and started a QE program to control the 3-year AGB at a rate of 0.25%

There is no question that this is an impressive list of actions put into place in very short order which demonstrates just how seriously governments are taking the Covid-19 outbreak. And this doesn’t include any of the fiscal stimulus packages which either have been enacted or are on the cusp of being so. In fact, a total of 31 central banks around the world have cut rates, added liquidity or started QE programs in the past week in order to stem the tide. (I have to add that the Danish central bank actually raised its base rate by 0.15%, to -0.60%, yesterday morning in a truly shocking move. Apparently there was growing concern that with the ongoing problems in Italy, investors were flocking to DKK from EUR and driving that cross, which the central bank uses as its monetary benchmark, strongly in favor of the krona. In this instance, strongly represents a 3.5 basis point move, which has since been reversed.) And perhaps the market is telling us, they’ve done enough. But I doubt it.

Remember, the problem is not financial at its heart, it is a medical issue and efforts to contain the virus remain only partially effective thus far. The medical news, however, continues to get worse, at least in Europe and the US, as the caseload continues to increase rapidly, as well as the death toll, and governments are imposing stricter and stricter regulations on the population. So along with California’s action, New York has mandated that no more than 25% of a company’s workforce is allowed to work at the office (at SMBC we are below 15%), while New Jersey has closed all personal service businesses, like hair salons, exercise facilities and tattoo parlors. And these are just the most recent ones that I have seen because of where I live and work. I know there are countless measures throughout the US and Europe. And all of those measures inflict significant pain on the economy.

Yesterday’s Initial Claims number jumped to 281K, significantly higher than model forecasts, but just a fraction of what we are likely to see going forward as small service businesses like restaurants and hair salons and so many others are forced to close for now and cannot afford to continue paying their staff. Hence I’ve seen estimates that we could see those numbers jump as high as 2 million! So while it is not an economic or financial condition at its heart, it is certainly having that impact.

A second thought, one which I think has more substance to it is that during the past three weeks we have seen a substantial amount of position liquidation by highly leveraged fund managers who were forced to sell assets (or cover shorts) at ANY price due to margin calls. The only way to get market movements of 5%-10% or more is to have market participants be price insensitive. In other words, sales (short covers) were mandated, not by choice. However, once those positions are closed, and the evidence is that most have been so, markets revert to price discovery in the normal fashion, with buyers and sellers putting their money to work based on views of the asset. So while there is still significant trepidation by investors, my gut tells me that we have seen the worst of the financial market activity and volatility. It will still be quite a while before things truly settle down, and there is every chance that as the economic data comes over the next weeks and months and shows just how badly things were impacted, we will see sharp market downdrafts. So I am not calling a bottom per se, but think that going forward it will be less dramatic than we have seen during the first three weeks of March.

A quick recap of this morning’s markets shows equity markets around the world higher, with many substantially so (CAC +5.1%, DAX +4.2%, Hang Seng +5.0%); government bond markets also rallying nicely with yields almost everywhere falling (Treasuries -14bps, Gilts -14bps, Bunds -9bps); commodity prices rallying virtually across the board (WTI +2.4%,Copper +1.7%, Gold +2.3%); and finally, the dollar selling off virtually universally, with some of the worst recent performers regaining the most. So KRW (+3.0%), AUD (+2.6%) and GBP (+2.3%) are all unwinding some of the excess movement we saw in the past weeks. If I am correct and the worst has passed, I expect the dollar will cede more of its recent gains. However, given my timeline of May, I expect it will be another month before we see that in any material way. So, if you are a payables hedger, these are likely to be some of the best opportunities you are going to see for quite a while. Don’t miss out!

Good luck, good weekend and please all stay safe and socially distant
Adf

All Stay at Home

While yesterday was, for most, scary
It seems the moves were temporary
This morning we’ve seen
Our screens filled with green
On hopes of response monetary

Meanwhile, as the virus expands
And spreads across multiple lands
The word out of Rome
Is, ‘all stay at home’
And please don’t go round shaking hands!

What a difference a day makes! After what was a total obliteration of risk on Monday, this morning we have seen equity markets around the world rebound sharply as well as haven assets lose some of their luster. While net, risk assets are still lower than before the oil war broke out, there is a palpable sense of relief in trading rooms around the world.

But is anything really different? Arguably, the big difference this morning is that we have begun to hear from governments around the world about how they are planning to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic epidemic, and more importantly, that they actually do have a response. The most dramatic response is arguably from Italy, where the government has locked down the entire nation. Schools and businesses are closed and travel within as well as in and out of the country is banned save for a dire emergency. Given how badly hit Italy has been hit by Covid, nearly 500 deaths from more than 9,000 cases, and the fact that the case load is increasing, this should be no surprise. At the same time, given the demographics in Italy, only Germany and Japan have older populations, and given the fact that the virus is particularly fatal for elderly people, things are likely to continue to get worse before they get better. I have seen two different descriptions of how dire the situation is there, with both calling the health infrastructure completely overwhelmed. Look for Germany to impose more restrictions later this week as well, given the growing spread of the virus there.

But from a market perspective, what is truly turning things around is the discussion of combined monetary and fiscal response that is making the rounds. Last night President Trump explained the administration was considering payroll tax cuts as well as direct subsidies to hourly workers via increased support for paid sick leave. In addition, the market is certain the Fed will cut at least 50bps next week, and still essentially pricing in 75bps. So, the twin barrels of monetary and fiscal policy should go a long way to helping regain confidence. Of course, neither of these things will solve the problems in the oil patch as shale drillers find themselves under extraordinary financial pressure with oil prices still around $34/bbl. While that is a 10% rebound from yesterday, most of the shale drillers need oil to be near $45-$50/bbl to make a living. But there is very little the government can do about that right now.

And we are hearing about pending support from other governments as well, with the UK, France and Japan all preparing or announcing new measures. However, as long as the virus remains as contagious as it is, all these measures are merely stop-gaps. Lockdowns have serious longer-term consequences and there will be significant lost output that is permanently gone. Recession this year seems a highly likely event in many, if not most, G10 countries, so be prepared.

And with that as a start, let’s take a look around the markets. As I mentioned, equities rebounded in Asia (Nikkei +0.85%, Hang Seng +1.4%, Shanghai +1.8%) and are much higher in Europe (DAX +3.6%, CAC +4.4%, FTSE 100 +4.2%). Of course, that was after significantly larger declines yesterday. US futures are sharply higher as I type, with all three indices more than 4% higher at this time. Meanwhile, bond markets are seeing the opposite price action with 10-year Treasury yields rebounding to 0.71% after touching a low of 0.31% yesterday. Bunds have also rebounded 12bps to -0.74%, and more importantly, both Italian and Greek bonds have rallied (yields falling) sharply. Make no mistake, the bonds of those two nations are not considered havens in any language.

In the FX market, yesterday saw, by far, the most volatile trading we have experienced since the financial crisis in 2008-09. And this morning, along with other markets, much of that is reversing. So we are looking at the yen falling 2.4% this morning, by far the worst performer in the G10, but also seeing weakness in the euro (-0.85%), pound Sterling (-0.7%) and Swiss franc (-0.85%). On the plus side, NOK is higher by 1.05% and CAD has regained a much less impressive 0.35%.

Emerging markets have also seen significant reversals with MXN, yesterday’s worst performer, rebounding 1.8%, ZAR +1.65% and KRW +0.95%. On the downside, RUB is today’s loser extraordinaire, falling 3.5% after Saudi Aramco said they would increase production to a more than expected 12.3 million bbls/day. But the CE4 currencies, which rallied with the euro yesterday, are all softer this morning by roughly 0.8%.

The one thing that seems clear is that volatility remains the base case for now, and although market implied volatilities have fallen today, they remain far higher than we had seen just a week ago. I think there will also be far more market liquidity to be involved in this market as well.

On the data front, the NFIB Small Business Optimism report has already been released at 104.5, rising from last month and far better than expected. Now this survey covers February which means that there had to be at least some virus impact. With that in mind, the result is even more impressive. The thing is that right now, data is just not a market driver, so the FX markets have largely ignored this along with every other release.

Looking ahead to today’s session, the reversal of yesterday’s moves is clearly in place and unless we suddenly get new information that the virus is more widespread, or that there is pushback on support packages and they won’t be forthcoming, I expect this morning’s moves to continue a bit further.

Longer term, we remain dependent on the spread of Covid-19 and government responses as the key driver. After all, the oil news seems pretty fully priced in for now.

Good luck
Adf

 

A Fig Leaf?

This morning, the market’s motif
Is central banks’ promised relief
The all-clear has sounded
And stocks have rebounded
But is this more than a fig leaf?

In case you were curious what central bank relief looked or sounded like, I have included the statements from each of the four major central banks addressing Covid-19, starting with the Fed’s statement Friday afternoon that was able to turn the equity market around (all are my emphases). Since then, we have heard from the other three major banks, as per below, and we have also been informed that G7 FinMins would be having a conference call this week to discuss a coordinated response.

The fundamentals of the U.S. economy remain strong. However, the coronavirus poses evolving risks to economic activity. The Federal Reserve is closely monitoring developments and their implications for the economic outlook. We will use our tools and act as appropriate to support the economy.

Global financial and capital markets have been unstable recently with growing uncertainties about the outlook for economic activity due to the spread of the novel coronavirus. The Bank of Japan will closely monitor future developments and will strive to provide ample liquidity and ensure stability in financial markets through appropriate market operations and asset purchases.”

The Bank of England is working with the UK Treasury as well as international partners to ensure all necessary steps are taken to protect financial and monetary stability amid the global outbreak of the coronavirus. The bank continues to monitor developments and is assessing its potential impacts on the global and UK economies and financial systems.

The European Central Bank is vigilant and mobilized when it comes to the fallout from the outbreak of the coronavirus. Any response needs to be calm and proportionate. ECB policy is already very accommodative.

And this has essentially been this morning’s market story, a major relief rally. Friday night, late, China released its PMI data and it was dreadful, with Manufacturing PMI at 35.7 while the Non-manufacturing figure was even worse, at 29.6! This should dispel was any doubts that growth in China has nearly ground to a halt. However, despite the promised support by central banks around the world, and you can be sure pretty much all of them, not just the big four, will be jumping in, if quarantines remain in place as the infection continues to spread, supply lines will remain broken and growth will be feeble. The OECD just released a report regarding the coronavirus with updated GDP forecasts and it is not pretty. Naturally, China is the hardest hit, with Q1 GDP now forecast to turn negative, and 2020 GDP growth to fall to 4.9% before rebounding next year. Meanwhile, global GDP growth is now forecast to fall to 2.4%, its slowest pace since the financial crisis in 2009. And the working assumption is that the virus is contained before the end of Q1. If we continue to see the virus spread, these numbers will be revised still lower.

So, with this as our backdrop, let’s turn our attention to actual market activity. Despite all the promises of support, equity investors remain uncertain as to how to proceed at this time. Support may be helpful, but if companies earnings plummet because of the disruption, then current market valuations are likely still a bit rich. Looking at Asian markets, China was the best performer, with Shanghai rising more than 3.1% as promises of support by the PBOC encouraged investors there. But we also saw the Nikkei (+0.95%) and the Hang Seng (+0.6%) rise although Australia’s ASX 200 (-0.8%) didn’t share in the enthusiasm. Europe has been far less positive with the DAX (-0.45%) and CAC (-0.25%) in the red along with Italy’s FTSE MIB (-2.25%) which is really feeling the brunt of the problems on the continent. The lone equity bright spot is the UK, where the FTSE 100 is higher by 0.5%, largely due to the fact that the pound is today’s worst performing currency, having fallen 0.5% vs. the dollar, and more than 1% vs. the euro.

The British pound story is entirely Brexit related as trade negotiations started today with concerns raised that the red lines both sides have defined may end the chance of any agreement as early as next month. Given the international nature of the FTSE 100 members, a weaker pound is usually a benefit for the stock market. But clearly, if the trade talks collapse, the impact on UK companies would be significant.

But other than the pound, the FX market is the only one that has responded in the manner the central banks were hoping, as the dollar has fallen sharply vs. pretty much every other currency. In the G10 space, SEK (+0.7%) and EUR (+0.65%) are leading the way although even AUD and NZD have managed to gain 0.3% this morning.

In the EMG space, KRW was the BIG winner, rallying 1.7% overnight, but almost every APAC currency jumped on the concerted central bank message. The two exceptions here this morning are INR and MXN, both currently lower by 0.7%, with both suffering from the same disease, new Covid-19 infections where there hadn’t been any before.

Meanwhile, bond markets continue to price in much slower growth as 10-year Treasury yields have tumbled to 1.05%, another new historic low, while German bunds fall to -0.66%, near its historic lows. There is discernment in the market though, as Italian yields have risen 7.5bps as concerns over the safety of those bonds, given Italy’s dubious distinction of being the European country worst hit by the virus, has called into question its financing capabilities.

Adding to all this enjoyment is a very busy data week culminating in the payroll report on Friday.

Today ISM Manufacturing 50.5
  ISM Prices Paid 50.5
  Construction Spending 0.6%
Wednesday ADP Employment 170K
  ISM Non-Manufacturing 55.0
  Fed’s Beige Book  
Thursday Initial Claims 216K
  Nonfarm Productivity 1.4%
  Unit Labor Costs 1.4%
  Factory Orders -0.2%
Friday Trade Balance -$47.0B
  Nonfarm Payrolls 175K
  Private Payrolls 160K
  Manufacturing Payrolls -4K
  Unemployment Rate 3.6%
  Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.0% Y/Y)
  Average Weekly Hours 34.3
  Participation Rate 63.4%
  Consumer Credit $17.0B

Source: Bloomberg

At this point, Covid-19 stories are going to be the primary driver of market activity as investors across all markets try to figure out how to react. Havens remain in demand, although the dollar has clearly suffered. Arguably the dollar’s weakness is predicated on the fact that, of all the nations around, the US is the one with the ability to cut rates the furthest. In fact, futures markets are now pricing in 100bps of rate cuts this year, with between 25bps and 50bps for the March meeting in two weeks’ time. Nobody else has that much room, and so the dollar is definitely feeling the pressure. Of course, I continue to believe that if things get much worse, the dollar will rally regardless of the Fed funds rate, as Treasury bonds remain the single safest and most liquid asset available anywhere in the world. For today however, unless there is additional new information, the dollar is likely to remain under pressure, and in truth, that seems likely all week.

Good luck
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Fears Melt

As Covid fears melt
Like the snowpack during spring
The yen, too, recedes

Remember when there was a universal idea that if the world’s second largest economy, and its fastest growing one at that, essentially shut down due to complications from an exogenous force (Covid-19), it would force investors to show concern over their risk allocations and seek out haven assets? Me neither! Remarkably, equity investors have become so convinced that central banks collectively have their “backs” that there is virtually no interest in limiting positions. This is certainly true across all equity markets, where after a mere twenty-four hours of modest concern over the fact that Q1 iPhone sales would be negatively impacted by Covid-19, the all clear signal was given. This time that signal took the form of the Chinese government announcing that they would be supporting the domestic airline industry, either encouraging takeovers of smaller airlines in financial trouble by their larger brethren, or via direct capital injections into companies. My sense is we will see both of those actions in order to be certain that no airlines go under.

Headlines like the following: “Chinese Companies Say They Can’t Afford to Pay Workers Now” from a Bloomberg story are seen as irrelevant and have no impact on risk assessment. Apparently the idea that the Chinese private sector, which accounts for two-thirds of GDP growth and 90% of new jobs, has basically been shuttered is not relevant in the calculations made by equity investors. Let me just say that the idea of risk has certainly evolved lately.

But this is the story. Equity investors are convinced that central banks will never allow stock markets to decline again and will do everything in their power to prevent any such decline. And while that may be true with regard to central bank efforts, there is a potential flaw in the theory. Central bank power, just like virtually everything else, is subject to the law of diminishing returns, and we are already seeing that situation in Europe and Japan. So even though central bankers may try to stop all declines, do not be surprised when a situation arises where they cannot do so.

Interestingly, bond market investors have a somewhat different view of the landscape as we continue to see interest in Treasuries and bunds with yields in both instruments continuing to grind slowly lower. However, for now, the equity markets are in the spotlight and driving the narrative.

So, with this in mind, it is easier to understand that Asian markets mostly rallied last night (Nikkei +0.9%, Hang Seng +0.5) although Shanghai edged lower by -0.15%. European markets are rocking this morning with the DAX (+0.55%), CAC (+0.7%) and FTSE100 (+0.8%) leading the way higher despite news that Adidas and Puma have seen sales collapse to virtually zero in China. US futures are also pointing higher, on the order of 0.3% as we would not want to be left out of the action here.

Treasury yields continue to sink, however, with the 10-year down to 1.56% while German bunds have fallen to -0.42%. So there is clearly some demand for haven assets, perhaps just not as much as we would expect. And finally, in the FX market, havens have lost their appeal. Most notably, the yen has tumbled 0.5% this morning, trading well back through 110 and touching its weakest point since last May. Clearly, there is no fear in FX traders’ collective minds. Funnily enough, gold prices continue to rally, having closed above $1600/oz yesterday for the first time since March 2013, and are higher by a further 0.5% this morning.

With this as a backdrop, it is very difficult to paint a coherent picture of the markets today, at least the FX markets. In the G10 space, we have already discussed the yen’s decline, marking it as the worst performing major currency today. On the flip side, NOK is the big winner, +0.5% as oil prices rebound on the news that Chinese airlines are not all going to disappear. CAD is the second best performer, also on the back of the oil news, although it has only managed a 0.25% gain. And other than those three currencies, nothing else has moved more than 10 basis points from last night’s closing levels. On the data front overseas, UK CPI was released a tick higher than expected at 1.8%, although the pound has seen exactly zero movement on the back of the data. If nothing else, new BOE Governor Andrew Bailey must be happy that the road to 2% inflation is not quite as steep as previously expected.

In the EMG space, movement has been even more muted with the biggest gainers ZAR (+0.3%) and RUB (+0.25%) on the back stronger commodity and oil prices while the biggest decliners have been HUF (-0.3%) and TRY (-0.25%) with the former seeing profit taking after a nearly 2% rally in the wake of central bank discussions of tighter policy to fight inflation there, while the lira is responding to a rate cut of 50 bps as the central bank seeks to unwind the drastic tightening it implemented in mid-2018 amid major inflationary pressures. And while I wish there were some more interesting stories, the reality is the big narrative of central banks preventing risk sell-offs remains the only theme in the market.

Looking at this morning’s data we see Housing Starts (exp 1428K), Building Permits (1450K) and PPI (1.6%, 1.3% ex food & energy). Then at 2:00 we get a look at the FOMC Minutes from January’s meeting. Fed watchers are focusing on any discussion regarding the balance sheet and repo as it remains clear there is not going to be any interest rate change anytime soon.

So that’s what we have for today. Arguably, the dollar is ever so slightly on its back foot, but the movement has been infinitesimal. While I continue to believe that ultimately the Fed will ease policy further, for now, the dollar remains the brightest bulb in the box, and so should continue to attract buyers.

Good luck
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