Concerns Within Europe

Concerns within Europe have grown
As surveys this morning have shown
Small businesses think
That many will sink
If Covid is not overthrown

The world seems a bit gloomier this morning as negative stories are gaining a foothold in investors’ minds.  Aside from the ongoing election and stimulus dramas in the US, and the ongoing Brexit drama in the UK/EU, concern was raised after a report was released by McKinsey this morning with results of a survey of SME’s in Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the UK.  Those results were not promising at all, as more than half of the 2200 companies surveyed in August expected to file for bankruptcy in the next year if revenues don’t increase.  More than 80% of those companies described the economy as weak or very weak.  If this survey is representative of SME’s throughout Europe, this is a very big deal.  SME’s (defined here as companies with less than 250 employees) employ over 90 million people in the EU.  Losing a large portion of those companies would be a devastating blow to the EU economy.  In fact, the IMF, which in its past had been the high priest of austerity for troubled nations, is now urging European (really all) countries to continue to spend any amount necessary to prevent businesses from collapsing.

This report serves as a fresh reminder of the remarkable contrast between market behavior and economic activity worldwide.  Not only is the current business situation tenuous, but prospects for the immediate future remain terrible as well.  And yet, equity markets worldwide have been able to look past the current economic devastation and rally on expectations of; 1) a blue wave in the US which will prompt massive stimulus spending; and 2) the quick and successful completion of Covid vaccine trials which will restore confidence in people’s everyday activities.  After all, if you were no longer concerned about getting infected with a deadly disease by a stranger, going to a movie, or taking a train or any one of a thousand different normal behaviors could be resumed, and the economy would truly start to rebound in earnest.

The question, of course, is how realistic are these assumptions underlying the market behavior?  Anecdotally, I have seen too many things to disrupt the idea of a blue wave and would question the accuracy of many of the polls.  Again, in 2016, Hillary Clinton was given a 98.4% probability of winning the election the day before voting, and we know how that worked out.  My point is, this race is likely significantly tighter than many polls reflect, yet markets do not seem to be taking that into account.  Secondly, vaccines typically take between four and five years to be created and approved, so expecting that a safe and effective vaccine will be widely available in a twelve-month timeline seems quite the stretch as well.  I understand technology has improved dramatically, but this timeline is extremely aggressive.  And this doesn’t even answer the question of how many people will take the vaccine, if it becomes available.  Remember, the flu vaccine, which is widely available, generally safe and constantly advertised, is only taken by 43% of the population.

The bigger point is that the market narrative has been very clear but could well be based on fallacious assumptions.  And looking at market behavior yesterday and today, it seems as though some of those assumptions are finally being questioned.

For instance, equity markets, after falling in the US afternoon on the back of worries that the Pelosi/Mnuchin stimulus talks are stalling, fell in Asia (Nikkei -0.7%, Shanghai -0.4%) ) although early losses in Europe have since been pared back to essentially flat performance.  US futures are pointing slightly lower, but only on the order of 0.1%-0.2%.  Aside from the negative tone of the McKinsey survey discussed above, GfK Consumer Confidence in Germany fell to -3.1, a bit worse than expected, and French Business Confidence indices all turned out lower than expected.  Again, evidence of a strong recovery in Europe remains hidden.

Bond markets remain disconnected from the equity sphere, at least from traditional correlations when discussing risk appetite.  While today has more characteristics of a risk-off session, and in fairness, 10-year Treasury yields have fallen 1 basis point, European government bond markets are selling off, with yields rising across the board.  Once again, the PIGS lead the way as Greece has seen its 10-year yield rise 20bps in the past week.  For a little perspective on 10-year yields, which have become a very hot topic as they traded through 0.80% two days ago, looking at a 5-year chart, the range has been 3.237%, in November 2018, to 0.507% this past August.  It is hard to get overly excited that yields are rising rapidly given the virtual flat line that describes the trend of the post Covid activity world.

Finally, the dollar, which has been under pressure this week overall, is seeing a little love this morning, having rallied modestly against most of the G10 as well as the EMG bloc.  Starting with emerging markets, the CE4 have been key underperformers with PLN (-0.4%), HUF (-0.4%) and CZK (-0.3%) following the euro lower.  Remember, these currencies tend to track the single currency quite closely, if with a bit more beta.  CNY (-0.4%) has also come under pressure, but given its performance over the past five months, this blip appears mostly as profit taking.  The only EMG currency in the green today is ZAR (+0.2%) which is most likely driven by ongoing interest in South African bond yields.

In the G10, SEK (-0.4%) is the laggard, although both GBP (0.3%) and EUR (-0.3%) are not far behind.  Swedish krona price action looks to be purely position related, as it has been among the best performers in the past week, so a little profit-taking seems in order.  As to the euro, we have already discussed the weak data and survey results.  And finally, the pound remains beholden to the Brexit negotiations, which while heavily hyped yesterday, seem to have found a few more doubters this morning, with a positive outcome not nearly so clear.

On the data front, this morning brings weekly Initial Claims (exp 870K) and Continuing Claims (9.625M) as well as Leading Indicators (0.6%) and Existing Home Sales (6.30M).  Last week’s Initial Claims data was disappointingly high, so this week’s results should get extra scrutiny with respect to the pace of any economic recovery.  As to the Home Sales data, Starts and Permits earlier in the week were solid, and record low mortgage rates, thanks to the Fed’s QE, continue to support housing, as does the flight to the suburbs from so many major urban areas.

From the Fed, it can be no surprise that uber-dove Lael Brainerd virtually demanded more federal stimulus in her comments yesterday, but that has been the theme from the Chairman on down.  Today we hear from three speakers, and it is almost certain that all three will maintain the new Fed mantra of, we will do what we can, but stimulus is necessary.

And that’s really it for the day.  If I had to guess, I expect there to be some positive stimulus headlines, although I doubt a deal will actually be reached.  But all the market needs is headlines, at least that’s all the algos need, so look for the dollar to give up its early gains on some type of positive news like that.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Hope Springs Eternal

The White House and Congress have talked
‘Bout stimulus but both sides balked
Still, hope springs eternal
That both sides infernal
Intransigence will get unblocked

Throughout 2019, it seemed every other day was a discussion of the trade deal with China, which morphed into the Phase one trade deal, which was, eventually, signed early this year.  But each day, the headlines were the market drivers, with stories about constructive talks leading to stock rallies and risk accumulation, while the periodic breakdowns in talks would result in pretty sharp selloffs.  I’m certain we all remember those days.  I only bring them up because the stimulus talks are the markets’ latest version of those trade talks.  When headlines seem positive that a deal will get done, stock markets rally in the US, and by extension, elsewhere in the world.  But, when there is concern that the stimulus talks will break down, investors head for the exits.  Or at least algorithms head for the exits, its not clear if investors are following yet.

Yesterday was one of those breakdown days, where despite reports of ongoing discussions between Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and House Speaker Pelosi, the vibes were negative with growing concern that no deal would be reached ahead of the election.  Of course, adding to the problem is the fact that Senate Majority Leader McConnell has already said that the numbers being discussed by the House and Congress are far too large to pass the Senate.  Handicapping the probability of a deal being reached is extremely difficult, but I would weigh in on the side of no action.  This seems far more like political posturing ahead of the election than an attempt to address some of the current economic concerns in the country.

Yet, despite yesterday’s negativity, and the ostensible deadline of today imposed by Speaker Pelosi (we all know how little deadlines mean in politics, just ask Boris), this morning has seen a return of hope that a deal will, in fact get done, and that the impact will be a huge boost to the economy, and by extension to the stock market.  So generally, today is a risk-on session, at least so far, with most Asian markets performing nicely and most of Europe in the green, despite rapidly rising infection counts in Europe’s second wave.  Remember, though, when markets become beholden to a political narrative like this, it is extremely difficult to anticipate short-term movements.

Down Under, the RBA said
We’re thinking, while looking ahead
A negative rate
Is still on the plate
So traders, their Aussie, did shed

While the politics is clearly the top story, given the risk-on nature of markets today, and the corresponding general weakness in the dollar, it was necessary to highlight the outliers, in this case, AUD (-0.4%) and NZD (-0.5%), which are clearly ignoring the bigger narrative.  However, there is a solid explanation here.  Last night, between the RBA’s Minutes and comments from Deputy Governor Kent, the market learned that the RBA is now considering negative interest rates.  Previously, the RBA had been clear that the current overnight rate level of 0.25% was the lower bound, and that negative rates did not make sense in Australia (in fairness, they don’t make sense anywhere.)  But given the sluggish state of the recovery from the initial Covid driven recession, the RBA has decided that negative rates may well be just the ticket to goose growth once covid lockdowns are lifted.  It is no surprise that Aussie fell, and traders extended the idea to New Zealand as well, assuming that if Australia goes negative, New Zealand would have no choice but to do so as well.  Hence the decline in both currencies overnight.

But really, those are the only stories of note this morning, in an otherwise dull session.  As I mentioned, risk is ‘on’ but not aggressively so.  While the Nikkei (-0.4%) did slip, we saw modest gains in Shanghai (+0.5%) and Hong Kong (+0.1%).  Europe, too, is somewhat higher, but not excessively so.  Spain’s IBEX (+0.85%) is the leader on the continent, although we are seeing gains in the CAC (+0.4%) and the FTSE 100 (+0.3%) as well.  The DAX (-0.3%), however, is unloved today as Covid cases rise back to early April levels and lockdowns are being considered throughout the country.  Finally, the rose-tinted glasses have been put back on by US equity futures traders with all three indices higher by a bit more than 0.5% at this hour.

Bond markets, however, are following the risk narrative a bit more closely and have sold off mildly across the board.  Well mildly except for the PIGS, who have seen another day with average rises in yield of around 3 basis points.  But for havens, yields have risen just 1 basis point in the US, Germany and the UK.

Commodity prices are little changed on the session, seemingly caught between hopes for a stimulus deal and fears over increased covid cases.

And lastly, the dollar is arguably a bit softer overall, but not by that much.  Aside from Aussie and Kiwi mentioned above, only the yen (-0.15%) is lower vs. the dollar, which is classic risk-on behavior.  On the plus side, SEK and NOK (both +0.5%) are leading the way higher, although the euro has been grinding higher all session and is now up 0.4% compared to yesterday’s close.  There has been no news of note from either Sweden or Norway to drive the gains, thus the most likely situation is that both currencies are simply benefitting from their relatively high betas and the general trend of the day.  As to the euro, the technicians are in command today, calling for a move higher due to an expected (hoped for?) break of a symmetrical triangle position.  Away from these three, though, gains are extremely modest.

In the emerging markets, CZK (+0.7%) is the outlier on the high side, although there is no obvious driver as there have been neither comments by officials nor new data released.  In fact, given that Covid infections seem to be growing disproportionally rapidly there, one might have thought the Koruna would have fallen instead.  But the rest of the CE4 are also firmer, simply tracking the euro this morning as they are up by between 0.3%-0.4%.  There have been some modest losers in the space as well, with THB (-0.25%) leading the charge in that direction.  The Thai story is a combination over concerns about further stimulus there not materializing and anxiety over the political unrest and student protests gaining strength throughout the nation.

On the data front, this morning brings Housing Starts (exp 1465K) and Building Permits (1520K), as well as four more Fed speakers.  Yesterday, Chairman Powell was not focused on monetary policy per se, but rather on the concept of digital currencies, and specifically, central bank digital currencies.  This is something that is clearly coming our way, but the timing remains unclear.  One thing to keep in mind is that when they arrive, interest rates will be negative, at least in the front end, forever.  But that is a story for another day.

Today, we are beholden to the stimulus talks.  Positive news should see further risk accumulation, while a breakdown will see stocks fall and the dollar rebound.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Willing to Meet

The latest from 10 Downing Street
Is Boris is willing to meet
Midway twixt the stance
Of England and France
In order, the talks, to complete

Meanwhile, from the Far East we heard
That growth was strong in, quarter, third
They’re now set to be
The only country
Where year on year growth has occurred

The weekend has brought a few stories of note, all of them with bullish overtones, and so it should be no surprise that the week is starting with a risk-on tone.  The first place to look is in China, which released its Q3 GDP data last night at a slightly worse than expected 4.9% Y/Y.  While the market was looking for 5.5%, given that China is the first nation to achieve positive year over year growth, it was still seen as a market plus.  At least to the broad market. Interestingly, the Shanghai stock market fell 0.7%.  But, between the GDP data, Retail Sales rising 3.3% Y/Y and the Surveyed Jobless Rate falling a bit more than expected to 5.4%, the Chinese are painting a picture of a solid recovery.  And while this is well below the levels seen prior to the pandemic, it is still well ahead of the rest of the world.

Next up is the UK, where optimism has grown that a Brexit deal will, in fact, be reached. Boris, playing to both his constituents and the Europeans, has said that the UK is preparing for a no-deal outcome, but is happy to continue to talk if the Europeans would consider some compromises.  As well, in the House of Lords, word is they are prepared to remove the offending language from the UK government’s proposed Internal Market Bill, the one that caused all the concern since it was published in July.  In this bill, the UK sets out the relationship between the four nations in the UK; England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  However, it was written in such a way as to render part of the Withdrawal Agreement moot, essentially overturning international law unilaterally.  Hence the issue.  In fact, the EU has sued the UK in the ICJ to prevent the law from being enacted.  This has been a major sticking point for the EU and has undermined a great deal of trust between the two sides.  Hence, the removal of that language is seen as a clear positive.  Certainly, FX traders saw it that way as the pound has rallied 0.75% since the news first was reported and is now back to 1.30.  While I believe the probability of a deal being completed remains above 50% (neither side wants a no-deal outcome), I also believe that the pound will fall after a deal is reached.  Sell the news remains the most likely situation in my view.

Adding to these two positive stories, the never-ending US stimulus talks continue to garner headlines despite a distinct lack of progress.  Yet, optimism on a stimulus bill seems to be a key driver in US equity markets, and in fact, in global ones as they are all, save Shanghai, propelled higher.  Given the proximity to the election, it seems unlikely that either side will allow the other to have a political victory, and so I remain skeptical a deal will be reached soon.  Of course, that merely means we can have a whole bunch of rallies on optimism that one will be reached!

With all that in mind, let’s take a look at the markets this morning.  Aside from Shanghai’s negative outcome in Asia, we saw strength with the Nikkei (+1.1%) and Hang Seng (+0.65%) both rallying nicely.  Europe as seen modest strength with the CAC (+0.6%) leading the way although the rest of the continent has seen far less love with the DAX (+0.1%), for instance, barely positive.  In fact, as I write, the FTSE 100 is actually slightly lower, down -0.15%.  US futures, though, have taken the stimulus story to heart and are much higher, between 0.8% (DOW) and 1.1% (NASDAQ).

Bond markets are feeling the risk-on mood as well, as they have fallen across the board with yields rising in every developed market.  Treasury yields are higher by 3.2 basis points, while bunds have seen a more modest 1.2 basis point rise.  Interestingly, the PIGS are seeing their bonds tossed overboard with an average rise of 4.5 basis points in their 10-year yields.

Oil prices (WTI -0.35%) are little changed, surprisingly, as one would expect commodities to rally on a positive risk day, while gold (+0.7%) and silver (+2.6%) are both quite strong, again somewhat surprising given higher yields and positive risk.  There are still many market relationships which have broken down compared to long-term trends.

Finally, the dollar is under pressure across the board this morning, with every G10 currency higher led by NOK (+0.95%) despite oil’s decline.  One of the drivers appears to be the unwinding of some large short positions in commodity currencies, a view that had been gaining credence amongst the leveraged community set.  This has helped SEK (+0.6%) and NZD (+0.55%) today as well.  The rest of the bloc, while higher, has been far less interesting.

On the EMG front, ZAR (+0.65%) is the leader with KRW (+0.5%) next in line.  After that, the gains are far less significant.  Korea’s won clearly benefitted from the Chinese GDP news, as China remains South Korea’s largest export destination.  Meanwhile, any gain in gold is likely to help support the rand given the gold mining industry’s importance to the economy there.  And as you consider the fact that the dollar is weak against virtually every currency, it is far more understandable that gold and silver have rallied as well.

On the data front, this week is not terribly interesting with only a handful of releases:

Tuesday Housing Starts 1455K
Building Permits 1506K
Wednesday Fed’s Beige Book
Thursday Initial Claims 865K
Continuing Claims 9.85M
Leading Indicators 0.7%
Existing Home Sales 6.30M
Friday Manufacturing PMI 53.5
Services PMI 54.6

Source: Bloomberg

However, despite a lack of data, there is no lack of Fedspeak this week, with six speeches just today, led by Chairman Powell at 8:00 on an IMF panel.  One of the themes of this week seems to be the discussion of central bank digital currencies, an idea that seems to be gaining traction around the world.  The other central bank tidbit comes from Madame Lagarde, who, not surprisingly, said she thought it made sense the PEPP (Pandemic EMERGENCY Purchase Program) be made a permanent vehicle.  This is perfectly in keeping with central bank actions where policies implemented to address an emergency morph into permanent policy tools as central bank mandates expand.  Once again, I will point out that the idea that other G10 central banks will allow the Fed to expand their balance sheet and undermine the dollar’s value without a response is categorically wrong. Every central bank will respond to additional Fed ease with their own package, thus this argument for a weaker dollar is extremely short-sighted.

But with all that said, there is no reason to believe the positive risk attitude will change today, unless there is a categorical denial by one of the parties discussing the stimulus bill.  As such, look for the dollar to continue to slide on the session.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Not So Amused

While Covid continues to spread
Chair Jay, for more stimulus pled
But President Trump
Said talks hit a bump
And ‘til the election they’re dead

The market was not so amused
With stock prices terribly bruised
So, as of today
Investors must weigh
The odds more Fed help is infused

Although nobody would characterize today as risk-on, the shock the market received yesterday afternoon does not seem to have had much follow through either.  Of course, I’m referring to President Trump’s tweet that all stimulus negotiations are off until after the election.  One need only look at the chart of the Dow Jones to know the exact timing of the comment, 2:48 yesterday afternoon.  The ensuing twenty minutes saw that index fall more than 2%, with similar moves in both the S&P 500 and the NASDAQ.  And this was hot on the heels of Chairman Powell pleading, once again, for more fiscal stimulus to help the economy and predicting dire consequences if none is forthcoming.

At this point, it is impossible to say how this scenario will play out largely because of the political calculations being made by both sides ahead of the presidential election next month.  On the one hand, it seems hard to believe that a sitting politician would refuse the opportunity to spend more money ahead of an election.  On the other hand, the particular politician in question is unlike any other seen in our lifetimes, and clearly walks to the beat of a different drummer.  The one thing I will say is that despite the forecasts of impending doom without further stimulus, the US data continues to show a recovering economy.  For instance, yesterday’s record trade deficit of -$67.2 billion was driven by an increase in imports, not something that typically occurs when the economy is slowing down.  One thing we have learned throughout the Covid crisis is that the econometric models used by virtually every central bank have proven themselves to be out of sync with the real economy.  As such, it is entirely possible that the central bank pleas for more stimulus are based on the idea that monetary policy has done all it can, and central bankers are terrified of being blamed for the economic problems extant.

Speaking of central bank activities and comments, the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street has been getting some press lately as the UK economy continues to deal with not merely Covid-19, but the impending exit from the EU.  Last month, the BOE mentioned they were investigating negative interest rates, but comments since then seem to highlight that there are but two of the nine members of the MPC who believe there is a place for NIRP.  That said, the Gilt market is pricing in negative interest rates from two to five years in maturity, so there is clearly a bigger community of believers.  While UK economic activity has also rebounded from the depths of the Q2 collapse, there is a huge concern that a no-deal Brexit will add another layer of difficulty to the situation there and require significantly more government action.  The BOE will almost certainly increase its QE, with a bump from the current £745 billion up to £1 trillion or more.  But, unlike the US, the UK does not have the advantage of issuing debt in the world’s reserve currency, and at some point, the cost of further fiscal stimulus may prove too steep.  As to the probability of a Brexit deal, it seems that much rides on French President Macron’s willingness to allow the French fishing fleet to sink shrink and allow the UK to manage their own territorial waters.

With this as the backdrop, a look at markets this morning shows a mixed bag on the risk front.  Asian equity markets saw the Nikkei (-0.05%) essentially unchanged although the Hang Seng (+1.1%) got along just fine.  Shanghai remains closed for holidays.  European bourses seem to be taking their cues from the Nikkei, as modest declines are the rule of the day.  The DAX (-0.35%) and the CAC (-0.2%) are both edging lower, and although the FTSE 100 is unchanged, the rest of the continent is following the German lead.  Interestingly, US futures are higher by between 0.3%-0.5%, not necessarily what one would expect.

Bond markets, once again, seem to be trading based on different market cues than either equities or FX, as this morning the 10-year Treasury yield has risen 4 basis points, and is trading back to the recent highs seen Monday.  One would be hard-pressed to characterize today as a risk-on session, where one might typically see investors sell bonds as they rotate into equities, so clearly there is something else afoot.  Yesterday’s 3-year Treasury auction seemed to be pretty well-received, so there is, as yet, no sign of fatigue in buying US debt.  There is much discussion here about the possibility of a contested election, yet I would have thought that is a risk scenario that would drive Treasury buying.  To my inexpert eyes, this appears to be driven by more inflation concerns.  Next week we see CPI again, and based on the recent trend, as well as personal experience, there has been no abatement in price pressures.  And unless the Fed starts buying the long end of the Treasury curve (something Cleveland’s Loretta Mester suggested yesterday), or announces yield curve control, there is ample room for the back end to sell off further with yields moving correspondingly higher, regardless of Fed activity.  And that would bring a whole set of new problems for the US.

Finally, one would have to characterize the dollar as on its back foot this morning.  While not universally lower, there are certainly more gainers than losers vs. the greenback.  In the G10 space, NOK (+0.5%) and SEK (+0.4%) are leading the way, which given oil’s 2.5% decline certainly seems odd for the Nocky.  As for the Stocky, there is no news nor data that would have encouraged buying, and so I attribute the movement to an extension of the currency’s recent modest strength which has seen the krona gain about 2% in the past two weeks.  Meanwhile, JPY (-0.4%) continues to sell off, much to the delight of Kuroda-san and new PM Suga.  Here, too, there is no news or data driving the story, but rather this feels like position adjustments.  It was only a few weeks ago where there was a great deal of excitement about the possibility of the yen breaking out and heading toward par.  That discussion has ended for now.

Emerging markets are generally better this morning as well, led by MXN (+0.85%) which is gaining despite oil’s decline and the landfall of Hurricane Delta, a category 3 storm.  If anything, comments from Banxico’s Governor De Leon, calling for more stimulus and explaining that the recovery will be uneven because of the lack of fiscal action, as well as the IMF castigating AMLO for underspending on stimulus, would have seemed to undermine the currency.  But apparently not.  Elsewhere, the gains are less impressive with HUF (+0.5%) and ZAR (+0.35%) the next best performers with the former getting a little love based on increased expectations for tighter monetary policy before year end, while ZAR continues to benefit, on days when fear is in the background, from its still very high real interest rates.

The only data of note today is the FOMC Minutes this afternoon, but are they really going to tell us more than we have heard recently from virtually the entire FOMC?  I don’t think so.  Instead, today will be a tale of the vagaries of the politics of stimulus as the market will await the next move to see if/when something will be agreed.  Just remember one thing; the Fed has already explained pretty much all the easing it is going to be implementing, but we have more to come from both the ECB and BOE.  That divergence ought to weigh on both the euro and the pound going forward.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

More Than a Molehill

The House passed a stimulus bill
With price tag of more than three trill
Japan’s latest play
Three billion a day
Adds up to more than a molehill

But turning to Europe we find
Their efforts are quite ill-designed
Despite desperate needs
The trouble exceeds
The laws that their treaties enshrined

Apparently, it’s Stimulus Day today, a little-known holiday designed by politicians to announce new fiscal stimulus measures to great fanfare. At least, that’s what it seems like anyway. Last night, Japanese PM Abe announced Japan’s second extra stimulus package in just over a month, this one with a price tag of ¥117 trillion, or roughly $1.1 trillion at today’s exchange rate (which, if you do the math works out to just over $3 billion/day over the course of a year). For an economy with a total GDP of ~$4.9 trillion, that is a huge amount of extra money.

The BOJ has explained that they will not allow JGB yields to rise, which means that they are going to mop up all the issuance and the market (or what’s left of it) clearly believes them as 10-year JGB yields actually fell 1bp last night and are currently trading at -0.006%. It is certainly no imposition for the Japanese government to borrow money from the BOJ as it is essentially a free loan. The impact on the Nikkei was mildly positive, with the index rallying 0.7%, while the yen has edged lower by a mere 0.15% and remains firmly ensconced in its 106-108 range.

And one last thing, Japan lifted its state of emergency, as well, meaning lockdowns continue to dissipate around the world. Of course, the thing about stimulus during the Days of Covid is that it is not designed to boost growth so much as designed to replace activity that was prevented by government lockdowns. Unfortunately, none of the measures announced anywhere in the world will be able to fully offset the impact of all those closures, and so despite governments’ best efforts, the global economy is set to shrink in 2020.

But on this Stimulus Day, we cannot ignore what is likely a far more important piece of news emanating from Europe, the creation of a €750 billion (~$825 billion) fiscal stimulus package consisting of €500 billion of grants and the rest of loans. While the size of this package is dwarfed by the Japanese efforts, despite the fact that the EU represents an economy with GDP of more than €14.3 trillion, the importance stems from the fact that part of the funding will come from joint debt issuance. This, of course, has been the holy grail for the entirety of southern Europe as well as the French. Because this means that the Germans (and Dutch and Austrians) are going to pay for the rest of the continent’s problems. And since those three nations are the only ones that can afford to do so, it is certainly a big deal.

The timing of this cannot be ignored either as ECB President Lagarde, just this morning, informed the world that of the ECB’s GDP forecasts last month, the mild downturn scenario is now “out of date”, with a much greater likelihood that GDP will decline between 8% and 12% in 2020. The market response has been clear with the euro rallying 0.8% on the news and now higher by 0.3% on the day, and back above 1.10. Yields on the debt of the PIGS have also fallen nicely since the news hit the tape, with all four nations seeing a 5-6bp decline. And European equity markets, which seem to have anticipated the news, have climbed a bit further, and are now all higher by more than 1.25% with Spain’s IBEX leading the way, up 2.25%.

I guess the question is will the US Senate join in the festivities (you recall the House already passed a $3 trillion package last week) and agree to at least discuss the idea, although they have made clear the House bill is a non-starter. The thing is, as has been evidenced by the recent stock market performance in the US, there are many that believe no further government stimulus is needed in the US. Optimism in the stock market has been driven by optimism that the gradual reopening of the economy in certain states will start to accelerate and that before too long, the lockdown period will end. Along those lines, Los Angeles mayor, Eric Garcetti, last night decided that small retail stores would be allowed to open today. Similarly, New York mayor Bill DiBlasio has now said that the first steps toward reopening could take place in the second week of June. The point is, if economic activity is going to start to rekindle on its own, why is further stimulus needed.

With this as background, we have seen a pretty substantial reversal in the FX market this morning, mostly since the EU stimulus announcement. While the yen has not moved, the G10 has seen currencies reverse course from a 0.3%-0.5% decline to similar sized gains. In other words, the market has seen this as further evidence that risk is to be acquired at all costs. Certainly, if the EU can figure out how to effectively fund its weakest members without causing a political uproar in the Teutonic trio, then one of the key negative fundamentals for the single currency will have been corrected. This works hand in hand with my view of increasingly negative real interest rates in the US as a driver of medium-term dollar weakness. While I don’t expect the euro to run away higher, this is certainly very positive news.

Meanwhile, those EMG currencies whose markets are open have all reversed course as well, with the CE4 higher by an average of 0.45%, having been lower by a similar amount before the announcement. APAC currencies, which had suffered a bit overnight, have not had a chance to react to the news as their local markets had closed before the report. I expect that, ceteris paribus, they will perform better tonight. The one currency, though, that is not performing well today is the Chinese renminbi, and more specifically CNH, the offshore version. It is lower by -.35%, having fallen early in last night’s session as tensions continue to increase between the US and China. As I have maintained for a very long period, the currency is an important outlet for Chinese economic imbalances and further weakness is a far more likely outcome than a reversal anytime soon.

Yesterday’s housing data in the US was surprisingly robust, with New Home Sales falling far less than expected. Today, the only real release will be the Fed’s Beige Book at 2:00, which might be interesting, but can be expected to paint a very dire picture of the regional economies. But none of that matters anymore. The future is clearly much brighter this morning as the combination of Japanese and EU stimulus along with additional easing of US restrictions has investors primed to use all that stimulus money and pump up asset prices even further. What could possibly go wrong?

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