So Ended the Equity Slump

There once was a president, Trump
Who sought a great stock market jump
He reached out to Xi
Who seemed to agree
So ended the equity slump

The story of a single phone call between Presidents Trump and Xi was all it took to change global investor sentiment. Last evening it was reported that Trump and Xi spoke at length over the phone, discussing the trade situation and North Korea. According to the Trump, things went very well, so much so that he requested several cabinet departments to start putting together a draft trade agreement with the idea that something could be signed at the G20 meeting later this month in Buenos Aires. (As an aside, if something is agreed there it will be the first time something useful ever came out of a G20 meeting!) The market response was swift and sure; buy everything. Equity markets exploded in Asia, with Shanghai rallying 2.7% and the Hang Seng up over 4%. In Europe the rally is not quite as robust, but still a bit more than 1% on average across the board, and US futures are pointing higher as well, with both S&P and Dow futures higher by just under 1% as I type.

I guess this answers the question about what was driving the malaise in equity markets seen throughout October. Apparently it was all about trade. And yet, there are still many other things that might be of concern. For example, amid a slowdown in global growth, which has become more evident every day, we continue to see increases in debt outstanding. So more leverage driving less growth is a major long-term concern. In addition, the rise of populist leadership throughout the world is another concern as historically, populists don’t make the best long-term economic decisions, rather they are focused on the here and now. Just take a look at Venezuela if you want to get an idea of what the end game may look like. My point is that while a resolution of the US-China trade dispute would be an unalloyed positive, it is not the only thing that matters when it comes to the global economy and the value of currencies.

Speaking of currencies lets take a look at just how well they have performed vs. the dollar in the past twenty-four hours. Starting with the euro, since the market close on October 31, it has rallied 1.2% despite the fact that the data released in the interim has all been weaker than expected. Today’s Manufacturing PMI data showed that Germany and France both slowed more than expected while Italy actually contracted. And yet the euro is higher by 0.45% this morning. It strikes me that Signor Draghi will have an increasingly difficult time describing the risks to the Eurozone economy as “balanced” if the data continues to print like today’s PMI data. I would argue the risks are clearly to the downside. But none of that was enough to stop the euro bulls.

Meanwhile, the pound has rallied more than 2% over the same timeline, although here the story is quite clear. As hopes for a Brexit deal increase, the pound will continue to outperform its G10 brethren, and there was nothing today to offset those hopes.

Highlighting the breadth of the sentiment change, AUD is higher by more than 2.5% since the close on Halloween as a combination of rebounding base metal prices and the trade story have been more than sufficient to get the bulls running. If the US and China do bury the hatchet on trade, then Australia may well be the country set to benefit most. Reduced trade tensions should help the Chinese economy find its footing again and given Australia’s economy is so dependent on exports to China, it stands to reason that Australia will see a positive response as well.

But the story is far more than a G10 story, EMG currencies have exploded higher as well. CNY, for example is higher by 0.85% this morning and more than 1.6% in the new month. Certainly discussion of breeching 7.00 has been set to the back burner for now, although I continue to believe it will be the eventual outcome. We’ve also seen impressive response in Mexico, where the peso has rallied 1.2% overnight and more than 2% this month. And this is despite AMLO’s decision to cancel the biggest infrastructure project in the country, the new Mexico City airport.

Other big EMG winners overnight include INR (+1.3%), KRW (+1.1%), IDR (+1.1%), TRY (+0.8%) and ZAR (+0.5%). The point is that the dollar is under universal pressure this morning as we await today’s payroll report. Now arguably, this pressure is simply a partial retracement of what has been very steady dollar strength that we’ve seen over the past several months.

Turning to the data, here are current expectations for today:

Nonfarm Payrolls 190K
Private Payrolls 183K
Manufacturing Payrolls 15K
Unemployment Rate 3.7%
Average Hourly Earnings (AHE) 0.2% (3.1% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.5
Trade Balance -$53.6B
Factory Orders 0.5%

I continue to expect that the AHE number is the one that will gain the most scrutiny, as it will be seen as the best indicator of the ongoing inflation debate. A strong print there could easily derail the equity rally as traders increase expectations that the Fed will tighten even faster, or at least for a longer time. But absent that type of result, I expect that the market’s euphoria is pretty clear today, so further USD weakness will accompany equity strength and bond market declines.

Good luck and good weekend
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More Trouble is Brewing

The PMI data last night
From China highlighted their plight
More trouble is brewing
While Xi keeps pursuing
The policies to get things right

Any questions about whether the trade conflict between the US and China was having an impact on the Chinese economy were answered last night when the latest PMI readings were released. The Manufacturing PMI fell to 50.2, it’s lowest level in more than two years and barely above the expansion/contraction level of 50.0. Even more disconcertingly for the Chinese, a number of the sub-indices notably export sales and employment, fell further below that 50.0 level (to 46.9 and 48.1 respectively), pointing to a limited probability of a rebound any time soon. At the same time, the Services PMI was also released lower than expected, falling to 53.9, its lowest level since last summer. Here, too, export orders and employment numbers fell (to 47.8 and 48.9 respectively), indicating that the economic weakness is quite broad based.

Summing up, it seems safe to say that growth in China continues to slow. One question I have is how is it possible that when the Chinese release their GDP estimates, the quarter-to-quarter movement is restricted to 0.1% increments? After all, elsewhere in the world, despite much lower headline numbers (remember China is allegedly growing at 6.5% while Europe is growing at 2.0% and the US at 3.5%), the month-to-month variability is much greater. Simple probability would anticipate that the variance in China’s data would be higher than in the rest of the world. My point is that, as in most things to do with China, we don’t really know what is happening there other than what they tell us and that is like relying on a pharmaceutical salesman to prescribe your medicine. There are several independent attempts ongoing to get a more accurate reading of GDP growth in China, with measures of electricity utilization or copper imports seen as key data that is difficult to manipulate, but they all remain incomplete. And it seems highly unlikely that President Xi, who has been focused on improving the economic lot of his country, will ever admit that the growth figures are being manipulated. But I remain skeptical of pretty much all the data that they provide.

At any rate, the impact on the renminbi continues to be modestly negative, with the dollar touching another new high for the move, just below 6.9800, in the overnight session. This very gradual weakening trend seems to be the PBOC’s plan for now, perhaps in order to make a move through 7.00 appear less frightening if it happens very slowly. I expect that it will continue for the foreseeable future especially as long as the Fed remains on track to tighten policy further while the PBOC searches for more ways to ease policy without actually cutting interest rates. Look for another reserve requirement ratio cut before the end of the year as well as a 7 handle on USDCNY.

Turning to the euro, data this morning showed that Signor Draghi has a bit of a challenge ahead of him. Eurozone inflation rose to 2.2% with the core reading rising to 1.1%, both slightly firmer than expected. The difference continues to be driven by energy prices, but the concern comes from the fact that GDP growth in the Eurozone slowed more than expected last quarter. Facing a situation where growth is slowing and inflation rising is every central banker’s nightmare scenario, as the traditional remedies for each are exactly opposite policies. And while the fluctuations are hardly the stuff of a disaster, the implication is that Europe may be reaching its growth potential at a time when interest rates remain negative and QE is still extant. The risk is that the removal of those policies will drive the Eurozone back into a much slower growth scenario, if not a recession, while inflation continues to creep higher. It is data of this nature, as well as the ongoing political dramas, that inform my views that the ECB will maintain easier policy for far longer than the market currently believes. And this is why I remain bearish on the euro.

Yesterday the pound managed to trade to its lowest level since the post-Brexit vote period, but it has bounced a bit this morning, +0.35%. That said, the trend remains lower for the pound. We are now exactly five months away from Brexit and there is still no resolution for the Irish border issue. Every day that passes increases the risk that there will be no deal, which will certainly have a decidedly negative impact on the UK economy and the pound by extension. Remember, too, that even if the negotiators agree a deal, it still must be ratified by 28 separate parliaments, which will be no easy task in the space of a few months. As long as this is the trajectory, the risk of a sharp decline in the pound remains quite real. Hedgers take note.

Elsewhere, the BOJ met last night and left policy unchanged as they remain no closer to achieving their 2.0% inflation goal today than they were five years ago when they started this process. However, the market has become quite accustomed to the process and as such, the yen is unchanged this morning. At this time, yen movement will be dictated by the interplay between risk scenarios and the Fed’s rate hike trajectory. Yen remains a haven asset, and in periods of extreme market stress is likely to perform well, but at the same time, as the interest rate differential increasingly favors the dollar, yen strength is likely to be moderated. In other words, it is hard to make a case for a large move in either direction in the near term.

Away from those three currencies, the dollar appears generally firmer, but movement has not been large. Turning to the data front, yesterday’s releases showed that home prices continue to ebb slightly in the US while Consumer Confidence remains high. This morning brings the first inklings of the employment situation with the ADP report (exp 189K) and then Chicago PMI (60.0) coming at 9:45. Equity futures are pointing higher as the market looks to build on yesterday’s modest rally. All the talk remains about how October has been the worst month in equity markets all year, but in the broad scheme of things, I would contend that, at least in the US, prices remain elevated compared to traditional valuation benchmarks like P/E ratios. At any rate, it seems unlikely that either of today’s data points will drive much FX activity, meaning that the big trend of a higher dollar is likely to dominate, albeit in a gradual fashion.

Good luck
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A Narrative Challenge

From Europe, the data released
Showed growth there has clearly decreased
For Draghi this poses
(What everyone knows is)
A narrative challenge, at least

Once upon a time there was a group of nations that came together in an effort to reap the theoretical benefits of closely adhering to the same types of economic policies. They believed that by linking together, they would create a much larger ‘domestic’ market, and therefore would be able to compete more effectively on the global stage. They even threw away their own currencies and created a single currency on which to depend. Under the guidance of their largest and most successful member, this currency was managed by a completely independent central bank, so they could never be accused of printing money recklessly. And after a few initial hiccups, this group generally thrived.

But then one day, clouds arose on the horizon, where from across the great ocean, a storm (now known as the Great financial crisis) blew in from the west. At first it appeared that this group of nations would weather the storm pretty well. But quickly these nations found out that their own banks had substantial exposure to the key problem that precipitated the storm, real estate investment in the US. Suddenly they were dragged into the maelstrom and their economies all weakened dramatically. The after effects of this included questions about whether a number of these countries would be able to continue to repay their outstanding debt. This precipitated the next crisis, where the weakest members of the club, the PIIGS, all saw their financing costs skyrocket as investors no longer wanted to accept the risk of repayment. This had the added detriment of weakening those nations’ banks further, as they had allocated a significant portion of their own balance sheets to buying home country debt. (The very debt investors were loath to own because of the repayment risks.)

Just when things reached their nadir, and the very weakest piggy looked like it was about to leave the group, a knight in shining armor rode to the rescue, promising to do “whatever it takes” to prevent the system from collapsing and the currency from breaking up. Being a knight in good standing, he lived up to those words and used every monetary policy trick known to mankind in order to save the day. These included cutting interest rates not just to zero, but below; force-feeding interest-free loans to the banks so that that they could on lend that money to companies throughout the group; and finally buying up as much sovereign, and then corporate, debt as they could, regardless of the price.

Time passed (five years) and that shining knight was still doing all those same things which helped avoid the worst possible outcomes, but didn’t really get the group’s economy growing as much as hoped. In fact, it seems that last year was the best it was going to get, where growth reached 2.5%. But now there are new storm clouds brewing, both from the West as well as from within, and the growth narrative has changed. And it appears this new narrative may not have a happy ending.

Data released this morning showed that GDP growth in Italy was nil, matching Germany’s performance, and helping to drag Eurozone growth down to 0.2% for Q3, half the expected rate. French growth, while weaker than expected at 0.4%, was at least positive. In addition, a series of confidence and sentiment indicators all demonstrated weakness describing a situation where not only has the recent performance been slipping, but expectations for the future are weakening as well. It can be no surprise that the euro has slipped further on the news, down 0.2% this morning and continuing its recent trend. During the month of October, the single currency has fallen more than 2.2%, and quite frankly, there doesn’t appear to be any reason in the short run for that to change.

What may change, though, is Signor Draghi’s tune if Eurozone growth data continues to weaken. It will be increasingly difficult for Draghi to justify ending QE and eventually raising rates if the economy is truly slowing. Right now, most analysts are saying this is a temporary thing, and that growth will rebound in Q4, but with the ongoing trade fight between the US and China weakening the Chinese economy, as well as the Fed continuing to raise interest rates and reduce dollar liquidity in global markets, it is quite realistic to believe that there will be no reprieve. And none of that includes the still fragile Italian budget situation as well as the potential for a ‘hard’ Brexit, both of which are likely to negatively impact the euro. And don’t get me started about German politics and how the end of the Merkel era could be an even bigger problem.

The point is, there is still no good reason to believe the dollar’s rally has ended. Speaking of Brexit, the pound is under pressure this morning, down -0.35%, as the market absorbs the most recent UK budget, where austerity has ended while growth is slowing. Of course, everything in the UK is still subject to change depending on the Brexit outcome, but as yet, there has been no breakthrough on the Irish border issue.

As to the rest of the G10, Aussie and Kiwi both benefitted from a bounce in the Chinese stock market, at least that’s what people are talking about. However, it makes little sense to me that a tiny bounce there would have such a big impact. Rather, I expect that both currencies will cede at least some of those gains before the day is done. Meanwhile, the yen has softened, which has been attributed to a risk-on sentiment there, and in fairness, Treasury yields have risen as well, but the rest of the risk clues are far less clear.

Speaking of China, the PBOC fixed the renminbi at a new low for the move, 6.9724, which promptly saw it trade even closer to 7.00, although it is now essentially unchanged on the day. The market talk is that traders are waiting for the meeting between Presidents Trump and Xi, later this mornth, to see if a further trade war can be averted. If tensions ease in the wake of the meeting, look for USDCNY to slowly head lower, but if there is no breakthrough, a move through 7.00 would seem imminent.

And that’s really it for this morning. Yesterday’s US data showed PCE right at 2.0% for both headline and core, while Personal Spending rose 0.4%, as expected. Today’s data brings only the Case-Shiller Home Price Index (exp 5.8%) and Consumer Confidence (136.0), neither of which is likely to move markets. In addition, the Fed is now in its quiet period, so no more Fed speak until the meeting next week. Equity futures are pointing slightly higher, but that is no guarantee of how the day proceeds. In the end, it is hard to make a case for a weaker dollar quite yet.

Good luck
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Unwavering

Said Xi, our support is “unwavering”
For stocks, which of late have been quavering
A rally ensued
The result, which imbued
A feeling the bulls have been savoring

Make no mistake about it, while President Xi Jinping is ‘president-for-life’ in China, and the most powerful leader since Deng Xiaoping, it turns out that the stock market is more powerful still. Despite last night’s 4% rally by the Shanghai Index, the market remains 25% lower than the highs seen in January. On Friday, we heard from a number of Chinese financial officials, each of them explaining how the government would support the market, and saw quasi-official purchases by Chinese brokerage firms. Over the weekend, President Xi, in a speech, promised a cut in personal income taxes as well as “unwavering” support for state owned enterprises. In other words, the combination of the trade spat with the US and the government’s previous efforts to deflate the real estate bubble by tightening liquidity and cracking down on non-bank financing seems to have been too much for Xi to bear. The equity market there has become too important to Chinese consumer sentiment to be ignored by the government, and a nearly 30% decline during the past nine months has really increased the pressure on Xi and his comrades. Since a key underpinning of Xi’s power is continued strong economic growth, the market signals had become too great to ignore. Hence the weekend actions, which also included promises of further tax cuts in the VAT rate, and the all-out effort to not merely halt the equity market decline, but reverse it.

For the moment, it has worked, with global equity markets responding favorably to the Chinese lead and risk being more warmly embraced by traders, if not long-term investors. European equity markets are higher, Treasury prices are falling, except in Italy (a truly high risk asset these days) where yields on the 10-year BTP have fallen 17bps today. Meanwhile, the dollar is little changed, having been slightly softer earlier in the session but now showing signs of life. The renminbi is also little changed this morning, continuing to hover near 6.94, while the PBOC looks on nervously. It has become increasingly apparent that regardless of the trade situation, there is very limited appetite to allow USDCNY to trade to 7.00 or beyond right now, as the fear of an uptick in capital outflows remains palpable. Although, eventually, I think that is exactly what will happen, it appears that the PBOC is going to allow only a very slow movement in that direction.

Away from China, the other ‘good’ news of the day was from Italy, where Moody’s cut the sovereign debt rating one notch to Baa3, its lowest investment grade, and adjusted the outlook to stable. This downgrade had been widely expected, but fears had been growing that it could actually be a two notch downgrade, into junk status, which would have resulted in forced selling of Italian debt by funds with mandates to only invest in investment grade bonds. The confirmation of a stable outlook has resulted in widespread relief by the market, although Standard & Poors will release their newest report next week, also slated to be a downgrade, but also expected (hoped?) to be a single notch and to remain in investment grade territory. For now, the result has been a huge rally in Italian bonds, with yields falling 14bps to 3.44% and the spread over German bunds declining to 298bps, its first time below 300 in two weeks. The thing is, there has been no indication that the Italians are going to alter their budget to meet EU requirements, and that is what started this latest round of problems.

Elsewhere in Europe Brexit remains the biggest unknown, with a deal still far from concluded. The key issue is still the Ireland situation and the competing demands for no hard Irish/Northern Irish border vs. the willingness to allow Northern Ireland to have a completely different set of trading rules than the rest of the UK. Over the weekend, PM May seemed to signal some willingness to move toward an EU suggested solution, but that is likely to imperil her tenure as PM given the strong resistance by hard-line Brexiteers. The pound is the worst performing G10 currency this morning, down 0.3%, but my sense is that for a substantive move to occur we will need to get a clear signal one way or the other, and that does not look imminent.

Another issue, which is in the background right now, but will start to become more interesting as we head into 2019, is the funding status of Eurozone banks that took advantage of the TLTRO financing during the Eurozone bond crisis. That cheap funding is set to mature beginning next year, and given the ECB’s stated goals of ending QE and eventually returning interest rates back to a more normal level, it means that bank funding costs throughout Europe are set to rise, and rise sharply. This will impact regulatory issues enacted in the wake of the financial crisis, as once those loans have less than 1-year remaining in them, they no longer count as long term capital. The point is that while the Eurozone economy has been recovering, a sharp rise in bank financing costs could easily undermine recent strength and force the ECB to reconsider the trajectory of tighter policy. Easier than expected ECB monetary policy would definitely weaken the single currency. This is not an issue for today, but we need to keep an eye out for potential concerns going forward.

Turning to the data story, this week doesn’t have much, but it does include the first look of Q3 GDP growth in the US, which could be critical for both markets and the upcoming elections. We also see New Home Sales, the last of the housing data, which thus far, has been quite weak.

Wednesday New Home Sales 625K
  Fed’s Beige Book  
Thursday Initial Claims 214K
  Durable Goods -1.0%
  -ex Transport +0.5%
  Goods Trade Balance -$74.9B
Friday Q3 GDP 3.3%
  Michigan Sentiment 99

On top of the GDP we have six Fed speakers, but there seems to be a pretty uniform set of expectations that they are on the right path with gradual rate increases the correct policy for now. In other words, don’t look for any new information there.

That sets us up for a week dependent on any changes in several ongoing stories, notably the Brexit negotiations, the Italian budget situation and Chinese market intervention. For now the signs are that the Chinese will continue to support things while Brexit will go nowhere. In the end, Italy has the best chance to rock the boat further, although I doubt that will occur this week. So look for a fairly quiet FX market, with the dollar remaining in its trading range waiting the next catalyst of note.

Good luck
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Ready To Burn

The chances last week of a deal
On Brexit quite clearly seemed real
But Saturday showed
T’is still a long road
Ere both sides, their bad feelings, heal

Meanwhile there’s another concern
In Europe, while Italians spurn
Demands to be sparing
And start in repairing
A fiscal house ready to burn

Thus far today, the evidence is mixed as to whether the equity market rout cum risk-off scenario is truly over, or simply took a breather on Friday. The rebound in stock markets around the world on Friday was met with a collective sigh of relief, but the overnight session saw APAC markets give up almost all of that ground with most closing down between 1.5%-2.0%. Europe opened lower as well although has since traded back to flat as traders everywhere wait for the US session to begin. Currently, futures are pointing lower by 0.4%, but there is a long time between now and the open, so sentiment may shift yet again before then. The key question is will investors, who have not seen a substantial correction in US equity markets in more than nine years, see this as the beginning of the end? Or as a chance to buy the dip? At this point, we can only wait and watch.

In the meantime, there are several stories that are important, but whose market impact has been diluted by the broad risk theme that has exerted itself in the past week. The first is about Brexit, where last week it seemed that a deal would be announced at the EU Summit to be held this Wednesday in Brussels. Alas, over the weekend, intense negotiations broke down and no further ones are slated ahead of that meeting. It seems that the Irish border issue remains intractable for now, as Ireland’s demand of no hard customs border with Northern Ireland cannot fit within the EU framework unless Northern Ireland is essentially separated from England. And neither side has been willing to cave on the issue, which, after all, is entirely about national sovereignty where fudging is far more difficult. Surprisingly, despite this setback, the pound is actually slightly higher on the day, having rallied 0.15%, although the euro has rallied double that. So EURGBP is stronger as the market continues to believe that the UK will be impacted more negatively than the EU in the event of a no-deal outcome.

Keep in mind, though, that both the Germans and Dutch have lately figured out that the UK is one of their top export markets for autos, chemicals and agriculture, and that the direct impact to those two nations is likely to be significantly greater than to most of the rest of the bloc. The point is that if there is no deal, the euro, which has gained some 12% vs. the pound since the initial Brexit vote in 2016, may find itself under more pressure than currently anticipated. In any event, it is hard to get excited about either currency in the short term.

Adding to the euro’s woes is the Italian budget situation, where the government in Rome will submit its budget proposals today. There has been no change to their recent estimates of a 2.4% deficit for next year, and that is based on what are seen as overly optimistic GDP growth forecasts, which means the actual number is likely to be much higher. There is also no indication that either 5-Star or the League are about to sacrifice their hard earned political capital and cave in to the EU’s demands.

You may recall that in Greece, when this situation played out, newly elected PM Alexis Tsipris sounded full of fury when telling his people they would never give in. You may also recall that he caved within a week of the first meeting. The difference this time is that, as the third largest economy in the EU, Italy actually matters to the entire structure there. With that in mind, my forecast is for some mollifying words on both sides but for the Italians to get their way, or at least most of it. While this may be a short-term euro positive, I think it actually undermines the long-term prospects for the currency.

Beyond these two headline stories we continue to hear about the US-China trade situation, which has not improved one iota since last week. Much concern was expressed at the IMF meetings over the weekend, but this is entirely being controlled by President Trump, and will almost certainly continue until at least the mid-term elections are past. At that point, it would not be surprising to see a softening of rhetoric and a deal finally agreed. But while that may make sense, it is by no means certain. In the meantime, the renminbi continues to trade toward the lower end of its recent range although there has been no indication that the PBOC is going to let it slide much further.

And those are the main stories for the session, which quite frankly remains far more focused on the equity markets than the dollar. Data this week brings the latest reading of Retail Sales and a few other things as well:

Today Empire Manufacturing 19
  Retail Sales 0.6%
  -ex autos 0.4%
  Monthly Budget $71.0B
Tuesday IP 0.2%
  Capacity Utilization 78.2%
  JOLT’s Job Openings 6.945M
  TIC Flows $47.7B
Wednesday Housing Starts 1.22M
  Building Permits 1.276M
  FOMC Minutes  
Thursday Initial Claims 212K
  Philly Fed 20
  Leading Indicators 0.5%
Friday Existing Home Sales 5.30M

Interestingly, I don’t think the Minutes will matter that much as we have heard extensively from so many Fed members explaining their views. Rather, today’s Retail Sales is likely to be the most important number of the week, as it could be the first sign the tariffs are having an impact.

In the end, all eyes remain focused on the equity and bond markets (which have been little changed overnight with 10-year yields up just 1bp to 3.15%), and I think the dollar remains secondary for now. But right now it seems risk-off is a dollar negative, so if equities fall, don’t be surprised to see the dollar fall too.

Good luck
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Growth Would Be Marred

The IMF’s Christine Lagarde
Explained global growth would be marred
By tariffs imposed
Which keep borders closed
To products that ought not be barred

The dollar has continued its recent ascent this morning, edging higher still against most of its counterparts as US interest rates continue to climb. In fact, as I type, the 10-year Treasury has breached 3.25% for the first time in more than seven years, and quite frankly, there is no reason to think this trend is going to stop. Rather, given the significant amount of new issuance that will be required by the Treasury Department, and the fact that the Fed is reducing the amount of bonds that it purchases as it shrinks its balance sheet, we should expect to see yields continue higher. Back in January I forecast that the 10-year yield would reach 4.00% by the end of the year. For the longest time that seemed impossible, but while still a difficult conclusion, given the speed with which yields have risen recently, it doesn’t seem quite as far-fetched as it used to.

At any rate, the market stories today are largely the same as those from yesterday. Perhaps the key headline was the IMF announcement that they had reduced their estimates for global growth for 2018 and 2019 by 0.2% to 3.7% for both years. The key change since their last estimate was the increased trade tensions between the US and China and the estimated impact those will have on nations around the globe. However, they did not adjust their estimate of US growth, which is likely to encourage the Trump Administration to continue down the path of further tariffs in their negotiation strategy.

Beyond that story, we are still in the grips of the Italian budget situation, where there has been no indication that the coalition government is going to adjust policy to reduce the projected deficit. Given that every one of these situations in Europe turns into a game of chicken, it is probably too early to assume no solution will be found. However, it is important to remember that DiMaio and Salvini, the heads of the 5-Star and League parties respectively, and the real power in the government, are both anti-establishment, and there appears to be a very real chance that they ignore the European Commission and the EU rules. Certainly the Italian stock and bond markets are concerned over that outcome, as 10-year yields there have risen another 10bps while the FTSE MIB has fallen a further 0.5%. This process will continue to weigh on the euro for now so it should be no surprise that the single currency has fallen by 0.5% this morning. But arguably it is not only the Italian situation impacting the euro, we also saw German trade data, which reported a significant decline in imports, -2.7%. While this did result in an increased trade surplus, sharply falling imports is not a sign of economic strength, and so this was likely not seen as a positive. Net, the combination of ongoing tighter US monetary policy and stalling growth in Europe should help underpin the dollar going forward.

Looking at the rest of the G10 space, the dollar is firmer virtually across the board, with the only exception the Japanese yen, which is flat on the day. Though some may argue that slightly better than expected Economy Wathers Survey data helped, this appears to me to be a consequence of a broader risk-off sentiment that is sweeping the markets. A stronger dollar and a stronger yen are natural consequences of this mentality. What is interesting, however, is that two other natural haven assets, gold and Treasuries, are not performing in the same way. I think the explanation for both is the same: higher US short term rates, now above 2.0% across products, is of sufficient attraction to draw frightened investors into Treasury bills rather than taking the risk of a 10-year note. As well, now that cash earns a return, the opportunity cost of holding gold has increased substantially. Given this situation, it appears there is much further to go for the dollar, as fear will drive investors to short term dollar holdings. With this in mind, I suspect we will hear much less about an inverting yield curve for a time. After all, given the sharp rise in 10-year yields and the increased demand for short term assets, it will be very hard for that to occur.

Flipping to emerging markets, the dollar is broadly stronger here as well, across all three regions. In fact, the only noteworthy exception is BRL, which rallied 1.5% yesterday in the wake of the results of Sunday’s presidential election. It is clear that the market remains highly in favor of a President Bolsonaro there, and I expect that as we approach the run-off vote in three weeks’ time the real will continue to perform well. However, this movement has all the earmarks of a ‘buy the rumor, sell the news’ scenario, which means that a sharp dollar rally could well result in the wake of the run-off vote no matter who wins. Granted, if Fernando Haddad, the left wing candidate wins, I would expect the real’s decline to be much sharper.

Away from that, USDCNY is trading above 6.93 today as the Chinese continue to try to ease policy domestically without causing too much market turmoil. While the Trump Administration is apparently looking at naming China a currency manipulator in the latest report due shortly, given the dollar’s overall strength, it appears to me that the movement is entirely within the confines of the overall market. Quite frankly, it still seems as though the Chinese are quite concerned about a ‘too-weak’ renminbi as a trigger to an increase in capital outflows, and so will prevent excessive weakness for now. That said, I expect CNY will continue to weaken going forward.

And that’s really it for today. The NFIB Small Business Optimism Report was released at 107.9, softer than expected but still tied for the second highest reading of all time. Confidence in the economy remains strong. All we have for the rest of the day are speeches by Chicago Fed President Evans and NY’s John Williams. However, given what we have heard lately and the dearth of new news likely to change opinions, it beggars belief to think that anything new will come from these comments. In other words, there is nothing standing in the way of the dollar continuing to rise on the back of ever tighter US monetary policy.

Good luck
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When Tax Cuts Arrive

The euro has taken a dive
As Italy tries to revive
Its still quite weak growth
By managing both
More spending when tax cuts arrive

It was just earlier this week that pundits were sounding the death knell for the dollar, as they explained the market has already fully priced in Fed rate hikes while other markets, both developed and emerging, were just beginning their turn towards tighter policy. In fact, the convergence trade was becoming all the rage; the idea that as the dollar started to slide, emerging market economies would see reduced pressure on their fundamentals (it would become easier to repay dollar debt) while commodity prices could rebound (most emerging markets are commodity exporters) and so both stock and bond prices in those markets would benefit. At the same time, other developed markets would see a similar, albeit lesser, impact and so market sentiment would get markedly better. Or not.

Yesterday, the market learned that the Italian budget question, something that had been set aside as not really impactful, has become impactful. The announcement by the ruling coalition that they would be targeting a 2.4% budget deficit next year, well above earlier estimates of 1.8% but still below the EU’s 3.0% target, has raised numerous red flags for investors. First, the new budget will do nothing to address Italy’s debt/GDP ratio, which at 131% is second only to Greece within the EU. One of the reasons that the EU wanted that lower target was to help address that situation. The potential consequence of that issue, a larger debt/GDP ratio, is that the ratings agencies may lower their country credit ratings for Italy, which currently stand at Baa2 by Moody’s and BBB by S&P. And given that those ratings are just two notches above junk, it could put the country in a precarious position of having a much more difficult time funding its deficit. It should be no surprise that Italian government bond yields jumped, with 2-year yields spiking 46bps and 10-year yields up 31bps. It should also be no surprise that the Italian stock markets fell sharply, with the FTSE-MIB down 4.1% as I type. And finally, it should be no surprise that the euro is lower, having fallen more than 1.5% since this news first trickled into the market yesterday morning NY time. While this could still play out where the coalition government backs off its demands and markets revert, what is clear is that dismissing Italian budget risk as insignificant is no longer a viable option.

But it’s not just the euro that is under pressure; the dollar is generally stronger against most of its counterparts. For example, the pound is down 0.3% this morning and 1% since yesterday morning after UK data showed weakening confidence and slowing business investment. Both of these seem to be directly related to growing Brexit concerns. And on that subject, there has been no movement with regard to the latest stance by either the UK or the EU. Politicians being what they are, I still feel like they will have something signed when the time comes, but it will be short on specifics and not actually address the issues. But every day that passes increases the odds that the UK just leaves with no deal, and that will be, at least in the short term, a huge pound Sterling negative.

Meanwhile, the yen has fallen to its lowest level vs. the dollar this year, trading through 113.60 before consolidating, after the BOJ once again tweaked its concept of how to manage QE there. Surprisingly (to me at least) the movement away from buying 30-year bonds was seen as a currency negative, despite the fact that it drove yields higher at the back of the curve. If anything, I would have expected that move to encourage Japanese investors to repatriate funds and invest locally, but that is not the market reaction. What I will say is that the yen’s trend is clearly downward and there is every indication that it will continue.

Looking at the data story, yesterday we saw US GDP for Q2 confirmed at 4.2%, while Durable Goods soared at a 4.5% pace in August on the back of strong aircraft orders. For this morning, we are looking for Personal Income (exp 0.4%); Personal Spending (0.3%); PCE (0.2%, 2.3% Y/Y); Core PCE (0.1%, 2.0% Y/Y); and Michigan Sentiment (100.8). All eyes should be on the Core PCE data given it is the number the Fed puts into their models. In addition, we hear from two Fed speakers, Barkin and Williams, although at this stage they are likely to just reiterate Wednesday’s message. Speaking of which, yesterday Chairman Powell spoke and when asked about the flattening yield curve explained that it was something they watched, but it was not seen as a game changer.

In the end, barring much weaker PCE data, there is no reason to believe that the Fed is going to slow down, and if anything, it appears they could fall behind the curve, especially if the tariff situation starts to impact prices more quickly than currently assumed. There is still a tug of war between the structural issues, which undoubtedly remain dollar negative, and the cyclical issues, which are undoubtedly dollar positive, but for now, it appears the cyclicals are winning.

Good luck and good weekend
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