No Longer Afraid

This morning twixt Brexit and trade
The market’s no longer afraid
More talks are now set
Though there’s no deal yet
And Parliament’s built a blockade

Yesterday saw a risk grab after the situation in Hong Kong moved toward a positive outcome. This morning has seen a continuation of that risk rally after two more key stories moved away from the abyss. First, both the US and China have confirmed that trade talks will resume in the coming weeks, expected sometime in early October, when Vice-premier Liu He and his team visit Washington. While the current tariff schedules remain in place, and there is no certainty that either side will compromise on the outstanding issues, it is certainly better that the talks continue than that all the news is in the form of dueling tweets.

It should be no surprise that Asian equity markets rallied on the news, (Nikkei +2.1%, Shanghai +1.0%), nor that European markets are following in their footsteps (DAX +0.85%, CAC +0.9%). It should also not be surprising that Treasury yields are higher (+5bps) as are Bund yields (+5bps); that the yen and dollar have suffered (JPY -0.2%, DXY -0.25%) and that gold prices are lower (-0.7%).

Of course, the other big story is Brexit, where yesterday PM Boris Johnson suffered twin defeats in his strategy of ending the mess once and for all. Parliament passed a bill that prevents the government from leaving the EU without a deal and requires the PM to ask for a delay if no deal is agreed by mid-October. Then in a follow-up vote, they rejected the call for a snap election as Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn would not support the opportunity to become PM himself. While Boris plots his next move, the market is reducing the probability of a hard Brexit in the pound’s price thus it has rallied further this morning, +0.7%, and is now higher by more than 2% since Tuesday morning.

However, while the news on both fronts is positive right now, remember nothing is concluded and both stories are subject to reversal at any time. In other words, hedgers must remain vigilant.

Turning to the rest of the market, there have been two central bank surprises in the past twenty-four hours, both of which were more hawkish than expected. First, the Bank of Canada yesterday left rates on hold despite the market having priced in a 25bp rate cut. They pointed to still solid growth and inflation near their target levels as reason enough to dissent from the market viewpoint. The market response was an immediate 0.5% rise in the Loonie with a much slower pace of ascent since then. However, all told, CAD is stronger by a bit over 1.1% since before the meeting. If you recall, analysts were less convinced than the market that a cut was coming, but they still have one penciled in by the end of the year. Meanwhile, the market is now 50/50 they will cut in October and about 65% certain it will happen by December.

The other hawkish surprise came from Stockholm this morning, where the Riksbank left rates on hold, as expected, but reiterated their view that a hike was still appropriate this year and that they expected to get rates back to positive before too long (currently the rate is -0.25%). While analysts don’t believe they will be able to follow through on this commitment, the FX market responded immediately and SEK is today’s top performer in the G10 space, rallying 0.9%.

The only data we have seen today was a much weaker than expected Factory Orders print from Germany (-2.7%), simply reinforcing the fact that the country is heading into a recession. That said, general dollar weakness on the risk grab has the euro higher by 0.25% as I type.

In the EMG space, we continue to see traders and investors piling into positions in their ongoing hunt for yield now that overall risk sentiment has improved. In the past two sessions we have seen LATAM, in particular, outperform with BRL higher by 1.8%, MXN up 1.65% and COP up 1.35%. But it is not just LATAM, ZAR is higher by 2.0% in that time frame, and KRW is up 1.3%. In fact, if you remove ARS from the equation (which obviously has its own major problems), every other EMG currency is higher since Tuesday’s close.

On the data front, yesterday’s US Trade deficit was a touch worse than expected at -$54.0B, but still an improvement on June’s data. This morning we see a number of things including ADP Employment (exp 148K), Initial Claims (215K), Nonfarm Productivity (2.2%), Unit Labor Costs (2.4%), Durable Goods orders (2.1%, -0.4% ex transport) and finally ISM Non-manufacturing (54.0). So there’s plenty of updated information to help ascertain just how the US economy is handling the stresses of the trade war and the global slowdown. As to Fed speak, there is nobody scheduled for today although we heard from several FOMC members yesterday with a range of views; from uber-dove Bullard’s call for a 50bp cut, to Dallas’s Kaplan discussing all the reasons that a cut is not necessary right now.

Despite the data dump today, I think all eyes will be on tomorrow where we not only get the payroll report, but Chairman Powell speaks at lunchtime. As such, there is no reason, barring a White House tweet, for the current risk on view to change and so I expect the dollar will continue to soften right up until tomorrow’s data. Then it will depend on that outcome.

Good luck
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Under Stress

The week that just passed was a mess
With both bulls and bears under stress
As equities fell
Most bonds performed well
And dollars? A roaring success

Pundits have been searching for adjectives to describe the week that is ending today. Tumultuous strikes me as an accurate reflection, but then stormy, tempestuous and volatile all work as well. In the end though, the broad trends have not changed at all. Equities continue to retreat from their mid-summer highs, bonds continue to rally sharply while yield curves around the world flatten and the dollar continues to march higher.

So what is driving all this volatility? It seems the bulk of the blame is laid at the feet of President Trump as his flipping and flopping on trade policy have left investors and traders completely confused. After all, late last week he declared tariffs would be imposed on the rest of Chinese imports not already subject to them, then after market declines he decided that a portion of those tariffs would be delayed from September until December. But then the Chinese struck back saying they would retaliate and now the President has highlighted he will be speaking directly with President Xi quite soon. On the one hand, it is easy to see given the numerous changes in stance, why markets have been so volatile. However, it beggars belief that a complex negotiation like this could possibly be completed on any short timeline, and almost by definition will take many more months, if not years. There is certainly no indication that either side is ready to capitulate on any of the outstanding issues. So the real question is, why are markets responding to every single tweet or comment? To quote William Shakespeare, “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.” Alas, there is every indication that this investor and trader behavior is going to continue for a while yet.

This morning we are back in happy mode, with the idea that the Presidents, Trump and Xi, are going to speak soon deemed a market positive. Equity markets around the world are higher (DAX +1.0%, CAC +1.0%, Nikkei +0.5%); bond markets have been a bit more mixed with Treasuries (+2bps) and Gilts (+4.5bps) selling off a bit but we continue to see Bunds (-1.5bps) rally. In fact we are at new all-time lows for Bund yields with the 10-year now yielding -0.73%!

As to the dollar, it is still in favor, with only the pound showing any real life in the G10 space, having rallied 0.65% this morning with the market continuing to be impressed with yesterday’s Retail Sales data there. In fact, if we look over the past week, the pound is the only G10 currency to outperform the dollar, having rallied more than 1.0%. On the flip side, the Skandies are this week’s biggest losers with both SEK and NOK down by 1.35% closely followed by the euro’s 1.1% decline, of which 0.3% has happened overnight.

The FX market continues to track the newest thoughts regarding relative central bank policy changes and that is clearly driving the euro. For example, yesterday, St Louis Fed President Bullard, likely the most dovish FOMC member (although Kashkari gives him a run), sounded almost reticent to continue cutting rates, and ruled out the idea that an intermeeting cut was necessary. While he supported the July cut, and will likely vote for September, he again ruled out 50bps and didn’t sound like more made sense. At the same time, Finnish central bank president Ollie Rehn, a key ECB member, explained that come September, the ECB would act very aggressively in order to get the most bang for the buck (euro?). The indication was not only will they cut rates, and possibly more than the 10bps expected, but QE would be restarted and expanded, and he did not rule out movement into other products (equities anyone?) as well. In the end, the market sees that the ECB is going to basically do everything else they can right away as they watch the Eurozone economy sink into recession. Meanwhile, most US data continues to point to a much more robust growth situation.

Let’s look at yesterday’s US data where Retail Sales were very strong (0.7%, 1.0% ex autos) and Productivity, Empire Manufacturing and Philly Fed all beat expectations. Of course, confusingly, IP was a weaker than expected -0.2% and Capacity Utilization fell to 77.5%. Adding to the overall confusion is this morning’s Housing data where Starts fell to 1191K although Permits rose to 1336K. In the end, there is more data that is better than worse which helps explain the 2.1% growth trajectory in the US, which compares quite favorably with the 0.8% GDP trajectory on the continent. As long as this remains the case, look for the dollar to continue to outperform.

Oh and one more thing, given the problems in the Eurozone, do you really believe the EU will sit by and watch the UK exit without changing their tune? Me either!

Next week brings the Fed’s Jackson Hole symposium and key speeches, notably by Chairman Powell. As to today, there is no reason to expect the dollar to do anything but continue its gradual appreciation.

Good luck and good weekend
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A Rate Cut’s Assumed

In Washington DC today
We’ll get to hear from Chairman Jay
A rate cut’s assumed
So, equities boomed
While dollar strength seems here to stay

Markets are on tenterhooks as the release of the FOMC statement approaches. That actually may be overstating the case. The market is highly confident that the Fed is going to cut the funds rate by 25 bps this afternoon as there has not been nearly enough change in the trajectory of the economic data over the past ten days to change any views. During this ‘quiet period’ we have seen solid, if unspectacular economic indicators. Certainly nothing indicating a severe slowdown, but also nothing indicating that the economy is overheating. As well, we have heard from several other central banks, notably the ECB and BOJ, that further policy ease is on the way and they are ready to move imminently. Finally, the whipped cream on this particular decision was released yesterday morning when core PCE data printed at 1.6%, a lower than expected outcome, and sufficient proof that inflation remains too quiescent for the Fed’s liking. At this point, it all seems anticlimactic.

Perhaps of more interest will be the press conference to be held at 2:30, when Chairman Powell will be able to explain more fully the rationale behind cutting rates with an economy running at potential, historically low unemployment and the easiest financial conditions seen in a decade. But hey, inflation is a few ticks low, so that is clearly justification. (As an aside, I find it remarkable that any central bank is so wedded, with precision, to a specific target inflation rate, and that not achieving that target is grounds for policy change. Let’s face it, monetary policy tools are blunt instruments and work with a significant lag. In fact, when a target is achieved, that seems to be more luck than skill. There are a number of central banks that aim for inflation to be within a range, and that seems to make far more sense than setting a 2.0% target and complaining when the rate is at 1.6%.)

In the meantime, there are still a few other things that are impacting markets today, notably the US-China trade talks and the ongoing Brexit story. Regarding the trade talks, the delegations met for two days in Shanghai and made approximately zero headway. The word is they are further apart now than when talks broke down three months ago. Suddenly it is dawning on a lot of people that these trade talks may not be concluded on a politically convenient schedule (meaning in time for the US election). The market impact was a decline in Asian equity indices with the Nikkei falling 0.9%, both Shanghai and Korea falling 0.7%, and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong down 1.3%. However, European indices have barely moved on the day and US futures are pointing higher after Apple beat earnings estimates following the close yesterday. The implication here is that US markets have moved on from the trade story while Asian ones are still beholden to every word. Quite frankly, that seems to be a realistic outcome given the fact that trade represents such a small part of the US economy as opposed to every Asian nation, where it is a major driver of economic activity.

Turning to the Brexit story, the pound plumbed new depths yesterday, trading close to 1.21 before a modest bounce this morning (+0.15%) as Boris continues to hold a hard line on talks. He is pushing very hard for the EU to reopen the existing, unratified deal and will not meet face-to-face with any EU counterparts until they do so. Thus far, the EU has been adamant that the deal is done, and they refuse to change it.

But here’s the first clue that things are going to change; the Bank of Ireland said that a hard Brexit will reduce GDP growth in 2020 to 0.7% from the currently expected 4.1% growth. As I mentioned before, Ireland is on the front lines and will feel the brunt of the early impacts. At some point, probably pretty soon, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is going to prevail on the rest of the EU to reopen talks before Ireland is crushed. And remember, too, that a no-deal Brexit leaves the EU with a £39 billion hole in their budget as that was to be the UK’s parting alimony payment.

While the EU tries to convince one and all that they hold the upper hand, it is not clear to me that is the case. Working in Boris’s favor was today’s Q2 GDP data from the Eurozone showing growth falling to 0.2% in the quarter with Italy at 0.0%, Spain dipping to 0.5% and France having reported 0.2% yesterday. Germany doesn’t actually report until next month, but indications are 0.0% is the best they can expect. The euro remains under pressure, trading at the bottom of its recent 1.11-1.14 trading range and shows no signs of rebounding. And of course, the fact that the ECB is getting set to ease policy further is not helping the single currency at all. I maintain that despite the Fed’s actions today, unless Powell promises three more cuts soon, the dollar will remain bid.

And those are really today’s stories. Overall, the FX market is pretty benign today, with the largest mover being TRY, which rallied 0.45% as optimism is growing that the economy is stabilizing which means that the current high rates are quite attractive to investors. But away from that, movement has been on the order of 0.10%-0.20% in either direction. In other words, nothing is happening.

On the data front, remember this is payroll week as well, and today we see ADP Employment (exp 150K) and then Chicago PMI (50.6) before the FOMC this afternoon. As earnings season is still underway, I expect equities to respond to that data, but the dollar will likely bide its time until the Fed. After that, nothing has changed my broadly bullish view, although an uber-dovish Powell could clearly do so.

Good luck
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Beggar Thy Neighbor

A story that’s making the rounds
Although, it, so far, lacks real grounds
Is that the US
Might try to depress
The dollar ‘gainst euros and pounds

If so, that’s incredible news
And dollar bulls need change their views
But beggar thy neighbor
Does naught but belabor
The trade war, instead, it, defuse

The most interesting story that has started to gain traction is the idea that the Trump administration is considering direct intervention in the FX markets. While most pundits and investors focus on the Fed and how its monetary policy impacts the value of the dollar (which is completely appropriate), the legal framework in the US is that the Treasury is the department that has oversight of the currency. This means that dollar policy, such as it is beyond benign neglect, is formulated by the Secretary of the Treasury, not the FOMC. This is why the Treasury produces the report about other countries and currency manipulation every six months. Also, this is not a new situation, it has been the case since the abandonment of the Bretton Woods Agreement in 1971.

Since the Clinton Administration, the US policy has been a ‘strong dollar is in the US best interest’. This was made clear by then Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and has been an accepted part of the monetary framework ever since. The issue with a strong dollar, of course, is that it can be an impediment for US exporters as their goods and services may become uncompetitively priced. Now, during the time when the US’s large trade deficits were not seen as problematic, the strong dollar was not seen as an issue. Clearly, earnings results from multinational corporations were impacted, but the government was not running policy with that as a priority. However, the current administration is far more mercantilist than the previous three or four, and as we have seen from the President’s Twitter feed, dollar strength has moved up the list of priorities.

It is this set of circumstances that has analysts and economists pondering the idea that the Treasury may direct the Fed to intervene directly in the FX market, selling dollars. History has shown that when a country intervenes by itself in the FX market, whether to prevent strength or weakness, it has generally been a failure. The only times when intervention has worked has been when there has been a general agreement amongst a large group of nations that a currency is either too strong or too weak and that intervention is appropriate. The best known examples are the Plaza Accord and the Louvre Accord from the mid-1980’s, where the G7 first agreed that the dollar was overvalued, then that it had reached an appropriate level. The initial announcement alone was able to drive the dollar lower by upwards of 10%, and the active intervention was worth another 5%. The result was a longer term weakening of nearly 40% before it was halted by the Louvre Accord. But other than those situations, for the large freely floating currencies, intervention has been effective at slowing a trend, but not reversing one. And the current dollar trend remains higher.

If the US does decide to intervene directly, this will have an enormous short-term impact on the FX market (and probably all markets) as it represents a significant policy reversal. However, in the end, macroeconomic fundamentals and relative monetary policy stances are still going to drive the value of every currency. With that in mind, it could be a long time before those influences become dominant again. Of course, the other thing is that the history of beggar-thy-neighbor FX policy is one of abject failure, with all nations seeking the same advantage, and none receiving any. Certainly, this is something to keep on your radar.

Away from that story, the dollar is actually stronger this morning, with the euro having breached 1.12, the pound tumbling toward 1.24 and most currencies, both G10 and EMG on the back foot. In fact, this is the problem for the Trump administration on this front, the growth situation elsewhere in the world continues to deteriorate more rapidly than in the US. Not only did Friday’s employment data help support the dollar, but this morning we saw very weak UK and Italian Retail Sales data to add to the economic malaise in those areas. In fact, economists are now forecasting negative GDP growth in the UK for Q2, and markets are pricing in a 25bp rate cut by the BOE before the end of the year. Meanwhile, in the Eurozone, all the talk is about how quickly the ECB is going to restart QE, with new estimates it could happen as soon as September with amounts up to €40 billion per month. While that seems to be a remarkably quick reversal (remember, they just ended QE six months ago), with the prospect of an ECB President Lagarde, who has lauded QE as an excellent policy tool, it cannot be ruled out.

Pivoting to the trade story, the latest news is that senior officials will be speaking by phone this week and the chances of a meeting, probably in Beijing in the next few weeks are rising. The problem is that there are still fundamental differences in world views and unless one side caves, which seems unlikely right now, I don’t see a short-term resolution. What is more remarkable is the fact that the lack of any discernible progress on trade is no longer seen as an issue by any markets. Or at least not a major one. While equity markets have softened over the past two sessions, the declines have been muted and, at least in the US, indices remain near record highs. Bond yields have risen a bit, implying the worst of the fear has passed, although in fairness, they remain incredibly low. But most importantly, the dialog has moved on, with trade no longer seen as the key fundamental factor it appeared to be just two months ago.

Turning to this morning’s news, there is only one data point, JOLT’s Job Openings (exp 7.47M) but of much more importance we hear from Chairman Powell at 8:45 this morning, followed by Bullard, Bostic and Quarles later in the day. Powell begins his testimony to Congress tomorrow morning, but everyone will be listening carefully to see if he is going to try to walk back expectations for the July rate cut that is fully priced into the market. My money is on confirming the cut on the basis of continued low inflation readings. However, given that is the market expectation, there is no reason to believe the dollar will suffer on the news, unless he is hyper dovish. So, the current strong stance of the buck seems likely to continue for the rest of the day.

Good luck
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Cow’ring In Fear

Tis coming increasingly clear
That growth is at ebb tide this year
The PMI data
When looked at, pro rata
Shows industry cow’ring in fear

Meanwhile in Osaka, the meet
Twixt Trump and Xi lowered the heat
On tariffs and trade
Which most have portrayed
As bullish, though some are downbeat

With all the buildup about the meeting between President’s Trump and Xi, one might have thought that a cure for cancer was to be revealed. In the end, the outcome was what was widely hoped for, and largely expected, that the trade talks would resume between the two nations. Two addenda were part of the discussion, with Huawei no longer being shut out of US technology and the Chinese promising to buy significantly more US agricultural products. Perhaps it was the two addenda that have gotten the market so excited, but despite the results being largely in line with expectations, equity markets around the world have all exploded higher, with both Shanghai and Tokyo rallying more than 2.2%, Europe seeing strong gains, (DAX +1.35%, FTSE + 1.15%) and US futures pointing sharply higher (DJIA +1.1%, NASDAQ +1.75%). In other words, everybody’s happy! Oil prices spiked higher as well, with WTI back over $60 due to a combination of an extension of the OPEC+ production cuts and the boost from anticipated economic growth after the trade truce. Gold, on the other hand, is lower by 1.4% as haven assets have suffered. After all, if the apocalypse has been delayed, there is no need to seek shelter.

But a funny thing happened on the way to market salvation, Manufacturing PMI data was released, and not only was it worse than expected pretty much everywhere around the world, it was also below the 50 level pretty much everywhere around the world. Here are the data for the world’s major nations; China 49.4, Japan 49.3, Korea 47.5, Germany 45.0, and the UK 48.0. We are awaiting this morning’s US ISM report (exp 51.0), but remember, that Friday’s Chicago PMI, often seen as a harbinger of the national scene, printed at a disastrous 49.7, more than 3 points below expectations and down 4.5 points from last month.

Taking all this into account, the most important question becomes, what do you do if you are the Fed? After all, the Fed remains the single most important actor in financial markets, if not in the global economy. Markets are still pricing in a 25bp rate cut at the end of this month, and about 100bps of cuts by the end of the year. In the meantime, the most recent comments from Fed speakers indicate that they may not be that anxious to cut rates so soon. (see Richmond Fed President Thomas Barkin’s Friday WSJ interview.) If you recall, part of the July rate cut story was the collapse of the trade talks and the negative impact that would result accordingly. But they didn’t collapse. Now granted, the PMI data is pointing to widespread economic weakness, which may be enough to convince the Fed to cut rates anyway. But was some of that weakness attributable to the uncertainty over the trade situation? After all, if global trade is shrinking, and it is, then manufacturing plans are probably suffering as well, even without the threat of tariffs. All I’m saying is that now that there is a trade truce, will that be sufficient for the Fed to remain on hold?

Of course, there is plenty of other data for the Fed to study before their next meeting, perhaps most notably this Friday’s payroll report. And there is the fact that with the market still fully priced for a rate cut, it will be extremely difficult for the Fed to stand on the side as the equity market reaction would likely be quite negative. I have a feeling that the markets are going to drive the Fed’s activities, and quite frankly, that is not an enviable position. But we have a long time between now and the next meeting, and so much can, and likely will, change in the interim.

As to the FX market, the dollar has been a huge beneficiary of the trade truce, rallying nicely against most currencies, although the Chinese yuan has also performed well. As an example, we see the euro lower by 0.3%, the pound by 0.45% and the yen by 0.35%. In fact, all G10 currencies are weaker this morning, with the true outliers those most likely to benefit from lessening trade tensions, namely CNY and MXN, both of which have rallied by 0.35% vs. the dollar.

Turning to the data this week, there is plenty, culminating in Friday’s payrolls:

Today ISM Manufacturing 51.0
  ISM Prices Paid 53.0
Wednesday ADP Employment 140K
  Trade Balance -$54.0B
  Initial Claims 223K
  ISM Non-Manufacturing 55.9
  Factory Orders -0.5%
Friday Nonfarm Payrolls 160K
  Private Payrolls 153K
  Manufacturing Payrolls 0K
  Unemployment Rate 3.6%
  Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.2% Y/Y)
  Average Weekly Hours 34.4

So, there will be lots to learn about the state of the economy, as well as the latest pearls of wisdom from Fed members Clarida, Williams and Mester in the first part of the week. And remember, with Thursday’s July 4th holiday, trading desks in every product are likely to be thinly staffed, especially Friday when payrolls hit. Also remember, last month’s payroll data was a massive disappointment, coming in at just 75K, well below expectations of 200K. This was one of the key themes underpinning the idea that the Fed was going to cut in July. Under the bad news is good framework, another weak data point will virtually guaranty that the Fed cuts rates, so look for an equity market rally in that event.

In the meantime, though, the evolving sentiment in the FX market is that the Fed is going to cut more aggressively than everywhere else, and that the dollar will suffer accordingly. I have been clear in my view that any dollar weakness will be limited as the rest of the world follows the Fed down the rate cutting path. Back in the beginning of the year, I was a non-consensus view of lower interest rates for 2019, calling for Treasuries at 2.40% and Bunds at 0.0% by December. And while we could still wind up there, certainly the consensus view is for much lower rates as we go forward. Things really have changed dramatically in the past six months. Don’t assume anything for the next six!

Good luck
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Absent Deceit

Two presidents are set to meet
From nations that fiercely compete
The issue at hand
Is how to expand
The trade twixt them absent deceit

For markets, this issue is key
And so far, today, what we see
Is traders complacent
A deal is now nascent
So buyers have been on a spree

The upcoming meeting between President’s Trump and Xi, due to be held on Saturday, has drawn the most focus amid financial markets in the past twenty-four hours. Yesterday we heard Treasury Secretary Mnuchin express confidence a deal could be completed and that “we were about 90% of the way there…” prior to the abrupt end of discussions last month. If you recall, the US claimed China reneged on their willingness to enshrine the deal details into their canon of law, which the US demanded to insure the deal was followed. However, shortly thereafter, President Trump, in a Fox News interview, talked about raising tariffs if necessary and seemed quite unconcerned over the talks falling apart. In fact, he turned his ire on India and Vietnam for adding to trade troubles. While Asian markets all rallied as the vibes seemed to be improving, a short time ago China announced they would have a set of conditions to present to Mr Trump in order to reach a deal. These include an end to the ban on Huawei products and purchases as well as an immediate end to all tariffs.

Given the importance of reaching a deal for both sides, my take is these comments and terms are simply being used to establish the baseline for the negotiations between the two men, and that some middle ground will be reached. However, markets (wisely I think) took the Chinese demands as a sign that a deal is far less certain than optimists believe, and European equities, as well as US futures, have sold off since their release. I have maintained throughout this process that a deal was always going to be extremely difficult to achieve given the fundamental problem that the Chinese have yet to admit to IP theft or forced technology transfers while the US sees those as critical issues. In addition, the question of enshrinement of terms into local law describes one of the fundamental differences between the two nations. After all, the US is a nation based on its laws, while China is a nation entirely in thrall to one man. Quite frankly, I think the odds of completing a deal are 50:50 at best, and if the luncheon between the two men does not result in the resumption of talks, be prepared for a pretty significant risk-off event.

In the meantime, the global economic picture continues to fade as data releases point to slowing growth everywhere. Yesterday’s Durable Goods numbers were much worse than expected at -1.3%, although that was largely due to the reduction in aircraft orders on the back of the ongoing travails of Boeing’s 737 Max jet. But even absent transport, the 0.3% increase, while better than expected, is hardly the stuff of a strong expansion. In fact, economists have begun adjusting their GDP forecasts lower due to the absence of manufacturing production. Yesterday I highlighted the sharp decline in all of the regional Fed manufacturing surveys, so the Durables data should be no real surprise. But surprise or not, it bodes ill for GDP growth in Q2 and Q3.

Of course, the US is not alone in seeing weaker data. For example, this morning the Eurozone published its monthly Confidence indices with Business Confidence falling to 0.17, the lowest level in five years, while Economic Sentiment fell to 103.3 (different type of scale), its lowest level in three years and continuing the steep trend lower since a recent peak in the autumn of last year. Economists have been watching the ongoing deterioration in Eurozone data and have adjusted their forecasts for the ECB’s future policy initiatives as follows: 10bp rate cut in September and December as well as a 50% probability of restarting QE. The latter is more difficult as that requires the ECB to change their self-imposed rules regarding ownership of government debt and the appearance of the ECB financing Eurozone governments directly. Naturally, it is the Germans who are most concerned over this issue, with lawsuits ongoing over the last series of QE. However, I think its quaint that politicians try to believe that central banks haven’t been directly funding governments for the past ten years!

So, what has all this done for the FX markets? Frankly, not much. The dollar is little changed across the board this morning, with nary a currency having moved even 0.20% in either direction. The issue in FX is that the competing problems (trade, weakening growth, central bank policy adjustments) are pulling traders in different directions with no clarity as to longer term trends. Lately, a common theme emerging has been that the dollar’s bull run is over, with a number of large speculators (read hedge funds) starting to establish short dollar positions against numerous currencies. This is based on the idea that the Fed will be forced to begin easing policy and that they have far more room to do so than any other central bank. As such, the dollar’s interest rate advantage will quickly disappear, and the dollar will fall accordingly. While I agree that will be a short-term impact, I remain unconvinced that the longer-term trend is turning. After all, there is scant evidence that things are getting better elsewhere in the world. Remember, the ongoing twin deficits in the US are hardly unique. Governments continue to spend far more than they receive in tax revenues and that is unlikely to stop anytime soon. Rather, ultimately, we are going to see more and more discussion on MMT, with the idea that printing money is without risk. And in a world of deflating currencies and halting growth, the US will still be the place where capital is best treated, thus drawing investment and dollar demand.

This morning brings some more data as follows: Initial Claims (exp 220K) and the third look at Q1 GDP (3.1%). Later, we also see our 6th regional Fed manufacturing index, this time from KC and while there is no official consensus view, given the trend we have seen, one has to believe it will fall sharply from last month’s reading of 2.0. There are no Fed speakers on the docket, so FX markets ought to take their cues from the equity and bond markets, which as the morning progressed, are starting to point to a bit of risk aversion.

Good luck
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Another Bad Day

Consider Prime Minister May
Who’s having another bad day
Her party is seeking
Her ouster ere leaking
Support, and keep Corbyn at bay

The pound is now bearing the brunt
Of pressure as sellers all punt
On Brexit disaster
Occurring much faster
Thus moving back burner to front

While the rest of the world continues to focus on the US-China trade situation, or perhaps more accurately on the volatility of US trade policy, which has certainly increased lately, the UK continues to muddle along on its painfully slow path to a Brexit resolution of some sort. The latest news is that the Tory party is seeking to change their own parliamentary rules so they can bring another vote of no-confidence against PM May as a growing number in the party seek her resignation. Meanwhile, the odds of a deal with the Labour party continue to shrink given May’s unwillingness to accept a permanent membership in a customs union, a key demand for Labour. This is the current backdrop heading into the EU elections next week. The Brexit party, a new concoction of Nigel Farage, is leading the race in the UK according to recent polls, with their platform as, essentially, leave the EU now! And to top it all off, PM May is seeking to bring her much despised Brexit bill back to the floor for its fourth vote in early June. In other words, while it has probably been a month since Brexit was the hot topic, as the cracks begin to show in UK politics, it is coming back to the fore. The upshot is the pound has been under very steady pressure for the past two weeks, having fallen 2.7% during that time (0.2% overnight), and is now at its lowest point since mid-February.

When the delay was agreed by the EU and the UK, pushing the new date to October 31, the market basically assumed that either Labour would come on-board and a deal agreed, or that a second referendum would be held which is widely expected to point to Remain. (Of course, that was widely expected in the first referendum as well!) However, given that politics is such a messy endeavor, there is no clarity on the outcome. I think what we are observing is the market pricing in much higher odds of a hard Brexit, which remains the law of the land given there are no other alternatives at this time. Virtually every pundit believes that some deal will be struck preventing that outcome, but it is becoming increasingly clear that the FX market, at least, is far less certain of that outcome. For the FX market punditry, this has created a situation where not only trade politics are clouding the view, but local UK politics are doing the same.

Speaking of trade politics, while there is continued bluster on both sides of the US-China spat, the lines of communication clearly remain open as Treasury Secretary Mnuchin seems likely to head back to Beijing again soon for further discussions. At the same time, President Trump has delayed the decision on imposing 25% tariffs on imported autos from Europe and Japan while negotiations there continue, thus helping kindle a rebound in yesterday’s equity markets. As to the FX impact on this news, it was ever so mildly euro positive, with the single currency rebounding a total of 0.2% from its lows before the announcement. Of course, part of the euro’s rally could be pinned on the much weaker than expected US Retail Sales and IP data released yesterday, but given the modesty of movement, it really doesn’t matter the driver.

Stepping back a bit, the dollar’s longer-term trend remains higher. Versus the euro, it remains 5% higher than May 2018, while the broader based Dollar Index (DXY) has rallied 3.5% in that period. And the thing is, despite yesterday’s US data, the US situation appears to be far more supportive of growth than the situation virtually everywhere else in the world. Global activity measures continue to point to a slowing trend which is merely being exacerbated by the trade problems.

Turning to market specifics, Aussie is a touch lower this morning after weaker than expected employment data has helped cement the market’s view that the RBA is going to cut rates at least once this year with a decent probability of two cuts before December. While thus far Governor Lowe has been reluctant to lean in that direction, the collapse in housing prices is clearly starting to weigh elsewhere Down Under. I think Aussie has further to decline.

However, away from that news, there has been much less of interest to drive markets, and so, not surprisingly, markets remain extremely quiet. Something that gets a great deal of press lately has been the decline in volatility and how selling vol has turned into a new favorite trade. (As a career options trader, I would caution against selling when levels have reached a nadir like this. It is not that they can’t decline further, clearly they can, but in a reversal, the pain will be excruciating).
As to the data story, aside from the Australian employment situation, there has been nothing of note overnight. This morning brings Initial Claims (exp 220K) and Housing Starts (1.205M) and Building Permits (1.29M) along with Philly Fed (9.0) all at 8:30. I mentioned the weak Retail Sales and IP data above, but we also saw Empire Manufacturing which was shockingly high at 18.5, once again showing that there is no strong trend in the US data. While there are no Fed speakers today, yesterday we heard from Richmond President Barkin and not surprisingly, he said he thought that patience was the right stance for now. There is no doubt they are all singing from the same hymnal.

Arguably, as long as we continue to get mixed data, there is no reason to change the view. With that in mind, it is hard to get excited about the prospects of a large currency move until those views change. So, for the time being, I believe the longer-term trend of dollar strength remains in place, but it will be choppy and slow until further notice.

Good luck
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