The Fed’s Fallen Short

This morning’s inflation report
Ought show that the Fed’s fallen short
In holding down prices
And so my advice is
It’s time, those short dollars, abort

Yesterday’s session was dominated by two key themes; the suddenly increased trade tensions after the announcement of a new list of $200 billion of Chinese tariff targets, and the sharp decline in oil prices (WTI – 5.0%) after Libya declared the end of force majeure with respect to shipments from its eastern port. The oil price decline, which occurred despite a surprisingly large drawdown of US inventories, was in sync with other commodity prices, notably copper which fell 2.5% and is now down more than 16% in the past month. Copper is generally seen as an important harbinger of future economic growth given its widespread use throughout different industries, and so falling demand for copper often leads to slower economic growth. And yet, despite the declining commodity price environment, yesterday’s PPI data (3.4% Y/Y) was the strongest in more than six years while expectations for today’s CPI are similarly elevated with consensus views looking for 0.2% monthly increases in both headline and core data which translates into 2.8% headline and 2.3% core on a Y/Y basis.

If those expectations are met, the Fed will certainly continue its hiking cycle, which ought to continue to support the dollar going forward. The other key dollar support has been risk aversion, which is where the trade story comes into play. As long as trade tensions remain front-page news, investors are likely to remain skittish which means they will be reducing risk and looking for safe places to invest. US Treasuries remain the global safe haven of choice, and so both Treasuries and the dollar should continue to benefit from this situation.

Yesterday I mentioned that there had been no indication that there were background talks ongoing between the US and China regarding trade, something I found surprising given the situation. However, this morning there is a story that such talks are, in fact, proceeding which implies to me that there will be some type of solution that arrives before the next round of tariffs are in place. Look for concessions on both sides as well as comments highlighting the strength of the Sino-US relationship, especially with regard to North Korea. At least that’s my view. But it will be several months before anything comes to fruition, and so we are likely to be subject to further volatility on the subject.

One of the impacts of the China trade story was yesterday’s very sharp decline in the renminbi (-1.1%), which resulted in the currency falling to its weakest level since last August. Some pundits see this as an attempt to adjust for the recent tariff impositions by the US, but a case can be made that since the dollar was so strong overall yesterday, (USDX +0.65%), the CNY move was not really out of character. And this morning, the renminbi has already retraced half of that movement, so I am inclined to give the Chinese the benefit of the doubt here and accept the broad dollar strength thesis. In fact, one of the things that continues to haunt the PBOC is their mini devaluation in 2015, which triggered significant capital outflows and forced the imposition of very strict capital controls in China. Regardless of the trade situation, I assure you the Chinese will do all they can to prevent a repeat of that outcome. However, steady depreciation of the renminbi going forward remains my base case.

Otherwise, in G10 space the Bank of Canada raised rates by 25bps, as expected, which helped the Loonie temporarily, but in the end, it seems that weaker oil prices overwhelmed the rate hike and CAD fell 0.75% on the day. However, the BOC continues to sound upbeat on the economy for now and is positioned to continue to track the Fed’s policy for the next year or two.

From the UK, this morning, we received PM May’s latest Brexit position paper which is seeking to have the UK track EU goods regulations, but simultaneously looking for the UK to go completely its own way regarding services and seek trade agreements around the world on that basis. While it is an interesting idea, and one with merit given that services represent ~80% of the UK economy, with less than nine months before the Brexit date, it feels like they may not be able to complete much of the process in time. However, the BOE appears completely ready to raise rates next month with the market pricing an 80% probability of the event and Governor Carney commenting that growth in the UK continues to perform as the BOE expected in its rebound from Q1. The pound, however, has added a small 0.1% decline this morning to yesterday’s 0.5% slide.

Beyond these stories, nothing of note to the FX markets has really been evident. Given the strength of yesterday’s dollar move, it would be no real surprise if there was a small retracement, but in fact, I have a feeling that we are going to see high side surprises in the CPI data which will only serve to increase Fed expectations and support the dollar. So my money is on the dollar continuing its strengthening trend of the week and closing yet higher today.

Good luck
Adf

Both Sides Will Lose

The trade story’s back in the news
With stock markets singing the blues
Two hundred bill more
Confirms the Trade War
Will happen, and both sides will lose

The Trump administration’s announcement last evening that they are targeting another $200 billion of Chinese imports for tariffs, this time 10% across the board, has interrupted the markets recent sense of calm. In fact, the immediate response was for equity markets around the world to fall sharply and the dollar to regain its footing. Investors had come to believe that the initial salvo of tariffs on $34 billion by each nation would be the extent of things, and that negotiations would soon begin. However, assuming things with this administration is a fraught activity as unpredictability has been Trump’s hallmark since his election.

It is interesting to consider the market ramifications of this growing trade war between the US and China. For instance, since March 22, the day the first tariffs were announced, the Shanghai Index is down more than 15% while the S&P 500 is higher by a bit more than 3.0%. While economists have ridiculed Trump’s statement that “trade wars are easy to win”, it certainly seems that the US has so far come out ahead, at least on this measure. At the same time, the Chinese renminbi has fallen ~5.6% over the same period, which could mean that investors are more confident that the US will come out ahead…or it could mean that the PBOC has simply forced guided the currency lower in an effort to offset the impact of the tariffs.

However, the one thing that I take away from this process is that neither side is going to back down anytime soon. As Trump is leading the charge, he is unlikely to back off without having won some major concessions from the Chinese. At the same time, Chinese President Xi, who has spent the past five years consolidating his power, cannot afford to look weak to the home crowd. So my advice is to prepare for higher prices on lots of things that you buy, because this is likely to drag on for a long time.

As an aside, while the politics may favor Xi, I think given the nature of the imbalance, where the Chinese not only have far more items that can be taxed, but that they remain a largely mercantilist economy depending on exports for growth, it means that China’s economic situation is likely to deteriorate far more than that of the US. However, it is not clear to me that I would call that ‘winning’!

At any rate, the one thing that seems almost certain is that the dollar is going to be a major beneficiary of this process. Not only are other currencies going to suffer as their nations’ exports are reduced and growth impaired, but the ensuing inflationary impact of tariffs on the US is going to encourage the Fed to be more aggressive. Given the dollar’s positive response to the tightening of Fed policy already, as well as the growing divergence between the US economy and the rest of the world, the brewing trade war has simply increased my dollar bullishness.

Pivoting to the overnight markets, the dollar has rallied for a second straight day, showing strength against all its G10 counterparts and most EMG currencies. There continues to be a dearth of data on which to base trading outcomes and it seems most likely that the dollar’s recent strength, while receiving a catalyst from the trade situation, is a continuation of its rebound from last week’s decline. In the end, the dollar is still largely range bound and has been so since its rally ended in mid May. I continue to believe we will need new data of note to encourage a breakout, with the next real opportunity tomorrow’s CPI print. A surprisingly high print will get tongues wagging over the Fed picking up the pace, and likely support the dollar. However, I don’t believe the opposite is true. A weaker than expected print will simply confirm that the Fed will stay on its current trajectory, which may not help the dollar much, but should not undermine it.

The other potential driver is going to be the general risk tone in markets. It is very clear that the dollar has regained its status as a safe haven, and with every escalation in the trade war, risk aversion will lead to further dollar strength. This is especially true given that the other potential havens, JPY and CHF, continue to offer negative interest rates and so are far less attractive to investors looking for a short-term home for their assets. To me, all the evidence still points to the dollar’s next leg being a move up potentially testing the levels seen back in the beginning of 2017 over time.

On the data front, this morning brings PPI (exp 0.2% for both headline and core) but all eyes will be on tomorrow’s CPI, not today’s number. We also hear from NY Fed President Williams late this afternoon. Given both the timing, some four weeks since the last FOMC meeting, and his elevated role, it is possible that he could create some volatility by adding new information to the mix. However, my read is that the data trajectory has remained quite steady, and although he will almost certainly mention the trade situation and its potential to upend the economy, I doubt there will be new information forthcoming. So in the end, I like the dollar to continue to grind higher as the day progresses.

Good luck
Adf

Lighthearted

At this point one must be impressed
Investors have not become stressed
A trade war has started
Yet they are lighthearted
With willingness still to invest

On top of that word from the Fed
Is they will keep pushing ahead
With rate hikes until
Our growth starts to chill
Or when markets start to bleed red

There has certainly been a lot to digest in the past twenty-four hours. Arguably the biggest story is the imposition of tariffs by the US on $34 billion worth of Chinese goods, which began at midnight last night. China is responding in kind and the Trump administration is determining whether they want to up the ante by an additional $200 billion. Now that the trade war is ‘officially’ underway, the key questions are just how far it will go and how long it will last. While there has been nothing in the press indicating that background negotiations are ongoing and that things can be resolved soon, based on the US equity market’s insouciance, it certainly seems that many investors feel that is the case. I hope they are correct, and soon, because otherwise I expect that we will see a more substantial correction in stocks. As to the dollar in this case, I expect that it will continue to benefit from its safe haven status in a time of market turmoil.

A second fear for equity investors has to be the Fed, which explained in yesterday’s release of the June meeting minutes, that while the trade situation could well become a concern in the future, for now they are much more focused on the potential for the US economy to overheat. The upshot is that the Fed is bound and determined to continue normalizing policy by gradually raising rates and by allowing the balance sheet to continue to gradually shrink. Speaking of the balance sheet, starting this month, they are going to allow $40 billion per month to roll off, and then beginning in October, it will be $50 billion per month until they reach whatever size they determine is appropriate. That means that $270 billion of bids for Treasury’s are going missing for the rest of the year. As the Fed continues to drain liquidity from the economy, I expect that the dollar will continue to benefit across the board, and that the US equity market will face additional headwinds. After all, QE was effective in its goal of forcing investors further out the risk curve and driving equity prices around the world higher as central banks everywhere hoovered up government bonds. Well, with yields rising and central banks backing away from the market (all while equity prices remain robustly valued) it seems there is ample opportunity for a substantial correction in stocks.

You may have noticed I said exactly the same thing when discussing the trade war situation. My point is that we are starting to see multiple catalysts align for a potential change in tone. A higher dollar and lower US (and likely global) equity prices seem like an increasingly possible outcome. Be prepared.

This leaves us at our third big story for the day, the payroll report this morning. Yesterday’s ADP Employment number was a mild disappointment, rising 177K rather than the 190K expected, but the reason appeared to be a lack of available workers rather than a lack of demand for hiring. In other words, the labor market in the US remains extremely strong. Or so it seems. Here are this morning’s expectations:

Nonfarm Payrolls 195K
Private Payrolls 190K
Manufacturing Payrolls 18K
Unemployment Rate 3.8%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (2.8% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.5
Trade Balance -$43.7B

It strikes me that this is a potential third catalyst that will line up with the trade war and Fed story in that a strong print today will encourage the Fed to continue or even accelerate their activities; it will encourage the administration that they can outlast the Chinese in this war of attrition, and so the dollar is likely to firm up while equity markets suffer. In the event payrolls disappoint, I think we could see the dollar’s modest correction lower continue and I expect that equity markets will be fine, at least in the US.

Remarkably, I don’t have space to more fully discuss what appears to be a euro positive, where Chancellor Merkel has averted disaster in Germany by getting the third coalition partner, the SPD, to agree to her immigration reforms thus keeping her government intact. As long as this internal truce lasts, there should be no further impact on the euro, but if the problem arises again (and I’m pretty sure it will soon) the euro is likely to suffer. At the same time, the pound is on tenterhooks as PM May is meeting with her cabinet today to finalize a negotiating stance regarding Brexit. If she cannot get the cabinet to agree, I expect the pound will feel the heat as concern over the fall of the May government will rise and an election campaign just nine months before the deadline for leaving the EU cannot be seen as a positive, especially with the chance that Jeremy Corbyn, the far-left Labour Party leader could become the next PM. Investors will not appreciate him in that seat, at least not at first.

As to the overnight session, the dollar is slightly softer and equity markets are under modest pressure, including US futures, as the market awaits the labor situation report. Remember, too, that many trading desks remain lightly staffed because of the holiday, and so liquidity is going to be a bit less robust than normal. If pressed my thought is that NFP will print near consensus, around 200K. I just wonder if the Unemployment Rate doesn’t tick even lower. And keep an eye on AHE, where my gut tells me it will be 0.4% enough to get Fed tongues wagging again. Net, I like the dollar to end the week on a strong note.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf

Lack of Dismay

The deadline for tariffs is nigh
And Friday they’ll start to apply
But so far today
The lack of dismay
Has forced pundits all to ask why

Tomorrow is tariff day, as the US is set to impose 25% tariffs on $34 billion of Chinese goods beginning at midnight tonight. The Chinese are prepared to respond in kind, and it seems that the second battle of the emerging trade war (steel and aluminum were the first) is about to begin. Interestingly, financial markets remain extremely calm at the prospect of escalation with equity prices rebounding from Tuesday’s late losses and the dollar ceding some of its recent gains. I question how long this can continue, especially if we move on to stage three of the battle, where President Trump has promised tariffs on an additional $200 billion of Chinese goods. That poses a bigger problem for China as they only import about $135 billion in goods from the US each year (hence the deficit!)

The question at hand, though, is what type of impact this will have on markets going forward. Economic theory tells us that consumers will seek substitutes for those goods but that prices will rise somewhat to offset the effects of either paying the tariffs or accounting for the higher cost of the substitutes. In other words, inflation, which has been steadily moving higher in the US, is destined to continue that trend, if not accelerate somewhat. From there, it is a short hop to higher US interest rates and a stronger dollar. However, if this process continues long enough, it is likely to undermine the US growth story. If that were to happen, weakening data would likely cause the Fed to grow more cautious in their policy normalization drive. In that event, we are likely to see the dollar’s current strengthening trend stall. As is so often the case, one set of stimuli with a particular response leads to another set of stimuli with the opposite impact. The thing is, it will probably be 2019 before there is any indication that US growth is really slowing due to the trade story, and so I see only a limited chance that the Fed adjusts its policy trajectory this year. In other words, I think despite the tariffs, the Fed will still raise rates twice more in 2018.

Perhaps we will get a better idea of the Fed thinking on the subject when the Minutes of June’s FOMC meeting are released this afternoon. And while we have heard from several FOMC members that they are beginning to become concerned about the impact of the trade war, at this point, the data continues to favor policy continuation.

In the meantime, the dollar is a bit softer this morning as Germany finally printed some good data. For the first time this year, Factory Orders rose (+2.6%). While that is encouraging, it still begs the question as to whether this is the outlier number, or whether the previous five months of data were the aberration. But the euro is higher by 0.35% and pushing back toward 1.1700. That said, it has largely been range bound, between 1.1550 and 1.1750, for the past month. It doesn’t strike me that today’s data point is going to change that.

From the UK, Governor Carney was on the tape explaining that the growth picture there has been good enough to warrant higher rates if it continues. Yesterday saw the Services PMI in the UK rise to 55.1, well above expectations of 54.0, and its highest level in 9 months. The futures market has now increased its probability of an August rate hike to 82%, which barring any disastrous announcement on Brexit, seems sufficient to allow the BOE to act. However, nothing I have read has indicated that the UK is going to come up with a workable solution for the current Brexit issues, and I continue to believe that next March, the UK will be leaving the EU with no deal in hand. If that is the case, whatever the BOE was planning will come under renewed scrutiny, and it seems unlikely that rates there will go any higher. In addition, just like in the wake of the actual vote, I would expect the pound to suffer significantly at that time. All of this tells me that GBP receivables hedgers need to be very proactive in managing those risks, especially when we get a bounce in cable.

In the emerging markets, there has been one major move since I last wrote; MXN is higher by nearly 2.5%. While the move was just beginning Tuesday morning, the market has become enamored of the idea that President Trump and President-elect Obrador are going to be great friends and solve many of the problems that exist between the two nations. I don’t mean to be negative, but I find it hard to believe that will be the case. In fact, I expect that based on campaign rhetoric, the US and Mexico will see increased tension, which I am certain will lead to the peso suffering more than the dollar. In the end, Mexico is far more reliant on the US than the other way around, so stress in that relationship will hurt the peso first.

But otherwise, amid a smattering of data and news, the dollar is mildly softer this morning. After the Minutes are released and digested, all eyes will turn toward tomorrow’s payroll report. And in fact, we get a preview this morning with the ADP employment print (exp 190K) and Initial Claims (225K). We also see ISM Non-Manufacturing (58.3), which is likely to continue to show the current strength of the US economy. In the end, we are range bound, but as of now I still see a better case for dollar strength than weakness going forward.

Good luck
Adf