Well Calibrated

Our policy’s “well calibrated”
Though some of us are still frustrated
It’s time to resort
To fiscal support
Since our balance sheet’s so inflated

While market activity has been relatively benign this morning, there are two stories that have consistently been part of the conversation; the FOMC Minutes and the latest trade information. Regarding the former, it seems there was a bit more dissent than expected regarding the Fed’s last rate cut, as while there were only two actual dissenters, others were reluctant rate cutters. With that said, the term “well calibrated” has been bandied about by more than one Fed member as a description of where they see policy right now. And this aligns perfectly with the idea that the Fed is done for a while which is what Powell signaled at the press conference and what essentially every Fed speaker since has confirmed. Regarding the balance of risks, despite what has been a clear uptick in investor sentiment over the past month, the Fed continues to point to asymmetry with the downside risks being of more concern. Recall, the futures markets are not looking for any policy adjustments at the December meeting, and in fact, are pricing just a 50% chance of a cut by next June. One final thing, the feeling was unanimous on the committee that there was no place for negative interest rates in the US. If (when) the economic situation deteriorates that much, they were far more likely to utilize policies like yield curve control (we know how well that worked for Japan) and forward guidance rather than taking the leap to negative rates.

Ultimately, the market read the Minutes and decided that while the Fed is on hold, the next move is far likelier to be a rate cut than a rate hike and thus yesterday’s early risk-off attitude was largely moderated by the end of the day. In fact, this morning, we are seeing a nascent risk-on view, although given how modest movement has been in any market; I am hesitant to describe it in that manner.

The other story that reinserted itself was the US-China trade negotiations, where Chinese vice –premier Liu He, the chief negotiator, explained that he was “cautiously optimistic” about progress and that he invited Messr’s Mnuchin and Lighthizer to Beijing next week to continue the dialog. While he admitted that he was confused about US demands, it does appear that the Chinese are pretty keen to get a deal done.

One other wrinkle is the fact that the Hong Kong support bill in Congress has been approved virtually unanimously, and all indications are that President Trump is going to sign it. While it is clear the Chinese are not happy about that, it seems a bit of an overreaction. After all, the bill simply says that Hong Kong’s special economic status will be reviewed annually, and that any direct military intervention would be met with sanctions. I have to believe that if the PLA did intervene directly to quell the unrest, even without this law in place, the US would respond in some manner that would make the Chinese unhappy. As to an annual review, the onus is actually on the US, although it could certainly add a new pressure point on China in the event they decide to convert from ‘one country, two systems’, to ‘one country, one system’. My take on the entire process is the Chinese are feeling more and more pressure on the economy because of the current tariff situation, and realize that they need to change that situation, hence the new invitation to continue the talks.

With that as our backdrop, a look at markets this morning shows the dollar is very modestly softer pretty much across the board. The largest gainer overnight has been the South African rand, which has rallied 0.5% ahead of the SARB meeting. While markets are generally expecting no policy changes, yesterday’s surprisingly low CPI data (3.7%, exp 3.9%) has some thinking the SARB may cut rates from their current 6.5% level and help foster further investment. On the flip side, South Korea’s won has been the big loser, falling 0.7% overnight after export data showed a twelfth consecutive month of declines and implied prospects for a pickup are limited. Arguably South Korea has been the nation most impacted by the US-China trade war. And one last thing, the Chilean peso, which has been under significant pressure for the past two weeks, is once again opening weaker, down 0.4% to start the day. In the past two weeks the peso has tumbled nearly 7%, and this despite the fact that the Chilean government has been extremely responsive to the protest movement, agreeing to rewrite the constitution to address many of the concerns that have come to light.

As to the G10, there is nothing to discuss. Movement has been extremely modest and data has been limited. Perhaps the one interesting item is that Jeremy Corbyn has released the Labour manifesto for the election and it focuses on raising taxes in numerous different ways and on numerous different parties. Certainly in the US that is typically not the path that wins elections, but perhaps in the UK it is different. At any rate, the market seems to think that this will hurt Corbyn’s chances, something it really likes, and the pound has edged up 0.25% this morning.

On the data front, this morning brings Initial Claims (exp 218K), Philly Fed (6.0), Leading Indicators (-0.1%) and finally Existing Home Sales (5.49M). Of this group, I expect that Philly Fed is the most likely to have an impact, but keep an eye on the claims data. Remember, last week it jumped to 225K, its highest since June, and another high print may start to indicate that the labor market, one of the key pillars of economic support, is starting to strain a little. We also hear from two Fed speakers, the hawkish Loretta Mester and the dovish Neal Kashkari, but again, it feels like the Fed is pretty comfortably on hold at this point.

Lacking a catalyst, it seems to me that the dollar is likely to have a rather dull session. Equity futures are pointing ever so slightly lower, but are arguably unchanged at this point. My sense is that this afternoon, markets will be almost exactly where they are now…unchanged.

Good luck
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Further Debates

Mnuchin and Powell and Trump
Sat down to discuss how to pump
The ‘conomy higher
To meet Trump’s desire
The Democrats fall with a thump

While Trump later carped about rates
Chair Jay explained recent updates,
To Congress, he made
Cannot be portrayed
As leading to further debates

Arguably the biggest story yesterday was news of a meeting at the White House between President Trump, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and Fed Chair Powell. While this is hardly unprecedented, given the President’s penchant for complaining about everything Powell has done; notably not cutting interest rates fast enough, when the news was released the conspiracy theorists immediately expected a change of tune from the Fed. But thus far, at least, nothing has changed. The Fed released a statement that explained the Chairman essentially repeated the talking points he made to Congress last week, and that the Fed’s actions are entirely predicated on their economic views and expectations, and not on politics.

The first thing to take away from that Fed statement is; it is a blatant admission that the Fed simply follows the markets/economy rather than leads it. If you listen to Fed speakers or read the Minutes or FOMC statement, they try to imply they are ahead of the curve. They are never ahead of the curve, but instead are always reacting to things that have already occurred. After all, isn’t that what data dependence means? Data isn’t released before it is gathered; it is a backward looking indicator.

The other thing, which is a modest digression, is an important question for those of us who are active in financial markets on a daily basis: Does anybody really think that any of the G10 central banks are actually independent? Consider that in macroeconomic theory, coordinated monetary and fiscal policy is seen as the Holy Grail. And, by definition, if the central bank and administration of a nation are working together, where is the independence? Or why is it considered business as usual when Mario Draghi and Christine Lagarde exhort nations to increase their fiscal spending, when their stated role is monetary policy? My point is central banks long ago lost their independence, if they ever had it at all, and are simply another arm of the government. Their biggest problem is that they are in danger of the illusion that they are independent disintegrating, at which point their powers of verbal suasion may disintegrate as well.

But in the end, despite the wagging of tongues over this meeting, nothing happened and the market returned its focus to…the trade deal. Once again, hopes and fears regarding the elusive phase one deal are driving equity markets, and by extension most others. The latest information I’ve seen is that the Chinese categorically will not sign a deal that leaves tariffs in place, and have even come to believe that the ongoing politics in Washington may leave the President in a weakened state which will allow them to get a better deal. Meanwhile, the President has not agreed to remove tariffs yet, although apparently has considered the idea. Underlying the broad risk-on theme is the idea that both Presidents really need the deal for their own domestic reasons, and so a deal will be agreed. But as yet, nothing is done.

Adding to the trade discussion is the constant commentary by the economic punditry as well as supranational organizations like the IMF who unanimously agree that Trump is a problem settling the US-China trade dispute would immediately lead to faster economic growth everywhere in the world. This morning we heard from new IMF Managing Director, Kristalina Georgieva, who said just that. Remember, the IMF has been reducing its estimates of global growth consistently for the past twelve months, and arguably they are still too high. But the one thing on which we can count is that the President is not going to be swayed by comments from the IMF.

So with that as our backdrop, a quick look at markets shows us that most equity markets continue to move higher (Hang Seng +1.5%, Shanghai +0.85%, DAX +0.95%, FTSE +1.1%) but not all (Nikkei -0.5%). This movement seems predicated on hope that the trade situation will improve, but boy, markets have been rallying on that same story for a few months now, and as yet, there has been no change. In fairness, in the UK, the Tory lead in the polls is growing which has started to filter into an idea that Brexit will happen and then businesses will be able to plan with more certainty going forward.

Interestingly, the bond market does not share the equity market’s collective belief that a trade deal will be done soon. This is evident by the fact that yields have actually been edging down rather than rising as would be expected in a full-scale risk-on environment. Finally, turning to the FX market, in the G10 space today, the biggest move is less than 0.2% with five currencies stronger and five weaker on the day. In other words, there is nothing of note there.

In the EMG space, there are some movers of note with CLP leading the way lower, -0.85%, as ongoing concerns over the fraught political situation make themselves felt in the FX market with investment flows softening. But away from that story, most of the bloc seems to be feeling the effects of the trade tensions, with far more losers, albeit small losers, than winners. On the positive front, ZAR has rallied 0.4% after Eskom, the troubled utility in South Africa, named a new CEO to try to turn things around.

On the data front this morning we see Housing Starts (exp 1320K) and Building Permits (1385K) and NY Fed President Williams speaks at 9:00. As to the data, housing has rarely been a big market driver in FX. And regarding Williams, we already know his views, as well as those of everybody else on the Fed. Nothing is going to change there. With all this in mind, as long as equity markets continue to embrace risk, the dollar (and yen and Swiss franc) are likely to continue to feel modest pressure. But I see no reason for a large move in the near term.

Good luck
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Centrists’ Dismay

In three weeks and some the UK
Will head to the polls and convey
To markets worldwide
If Brexit’s the side
They favor, to centrists’ dismay

In London today, and all week actually, the Confederation of British Industry is having their annual conference. As such, both Boris and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will be addressing the largest UK trade association to describe their views of the future based on an electoral victory on December 12. In brief, Boris is promising certainty with regard to Brexit as well as some tax cuts and spending on goodies. Meanwhile, Corbyn is promising to nationalize certain industries (British Telecom to give “free” high speed internet access to everyone in the country and the National Energy Grid to force more green activity and decisions) in order to achieve his party’s goal of poverty equality for all.

However, the weekend’s polls show that Boris is expanding his lead with the average result now showing the Tories with 42%, Labour with 30%, the LibDems at 14% and the rest of the assorted parties making up the balance. Arguably, the biggest weekend news was that every Tory running for a seat has signed a pledge to support the Brexit deal if elected. In essence, the Tories are leading and projected to get a majority, and they have pledged to complete Brexit. The market response has been pretty positive, at least the FX market, with the pound rallying a further 0.5% this morning after having rallied 1.0% last week. In fact, at 1.2950, we are pushing back to the highs seen in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit deal changes. As I have maintained since the election was called, I expect Boris to win and Brexit to go ahead shortly thereafter. At this point, it certainly seems like the UK will be out of the EU by the current January 31 deadline. As to the pound, I think we can see a move to 1.32-1.34, but probably not much more at this point. We will need to see significant progress on the ensuing trade agreement with the EU to see much further strength.

Other weekend news of note showed that the PBOC cut its seven-day repo rate by 5bps, to 2.50%, which despite the tiny movement cheered both traders and investors. Later this week, they will reveal the 1-year Loan Prime Rate, which is their new benchmark interest rate, and anticipation has grown they will be reducing that as well. The lesson here is that managing inflation, which has been rising rapidly due to the explosive growth in food, notably pork, prices, is a secondary concern. Instead, due to the fact that the economy is slowing even more rapidly, as evidenced by last week’s terrible Retail Sales and IP numbers, the PBOC’s marching orders are clearly to support GDP growth. Remember, despite the fact that President Xi is president for life, if GDP growth slows and unemployment rises, he will have some serious problems. In fact, it is this situation which has most pundits certain that a trade deal with the US will get signed. Both presidents need a win, and this is a relatively easy one for both.

Speaking of the trade deal, there was a high-level conversation over the weekend, between Liu He and the tag team of Mnuchin and Lighthizer, and both sides indicated progress continues to be made. That said, there is no indication that an agreement on where the presidents will meet to sign a deal has been reached, let alone an actual agreement on the deal. So, much remains to be done before this process is finished, but I am confident that we will read a string of positive tweets on a regular basis beforehand. Meanwhile, the PBOC’s modest rate cut had only a minor impact on the renminbi, which continues to trade just below (dollar above) the 7.00 level. Until a deal is finalized, it is hard to make a case for a large movement.

One last noteworthy item is from South Africa, where S&P has changed its outlook to negative from neutral. This is often a precursor for a ratings cut, and given S&P already has the country firmly in junk territory, at BB, Moody’s decision to maintain its investment grade rating last month seems more and more out of place. The rand is under pressure this morning, down 0.4%, although it remains closer to the top of its recent trading range than the bottom. What that means is there is ample opportunity for the rand to decline more sharply if there is any hint that Moody’s is going to move. The problem for South Africa is that if Moody’s changes them to junk, the nation’s debt will fall out of the MSCI global bond index and there could be as much as $15 billion of net sales. The rand would not receive that warmly, and a quick move back to the 15.50 level is to be expected in that case.

And those are the big stories this morning. Generally, I would characterize the markets as in a modest risk-on mode, with the dollar slightly softer, the yen and Swiss franc as well, while Treasury yields have edged higher and equity markets have edged higher as well. But, overall, it is pretty dull.

Looking ahead to the data releases this week, there is nothing of major consequence with Housing the focus:

Tuesday Housing Starts 1320K
  Building Permits 1381K
Wednesday FOMC Minutes  
Thursday Philly Fed 6.0
  Initial Claims 218K
  Leading Indicators -0.2%
  Existing Home Sales 5.49M
Friday Michigan Sentiment 95.7

While we do see the Minutes on Wednesday, given the onslaught of Fed speakers and consistency of message we have received since the last meeting, it seems hard to believe that we will learn anything new. One thing to watch closely is the Initial Claims data, which last week printed at 225K, higher than expected and where another higher than expected print could easily kick off a narrative of slowing employment, something that has much larger implications. There are a few Fed speakers, with uber-hawk Loretta Mester regaling us twice this week, although, again, it seems we have already heard everything there is to hear.

So today is shaping up to be quiet, with the modest risk-on behavior likely to continue to soften the dollar. We will need something bigger (e.g. a successful trade deal confirmed by both sides) in order to shake things up in my view.

Good luck
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Most Concerning

While cities worldwide keep on burning
The news for which markets are yearning
Revolves around trade
Is phase one delayed?
If so, that would be most concerning

This morning it seems that everything is right with the world, at least based on market behavior. After all, equity markets are rallying, Treasury yields are rising and haven currencies are falling, the perfect description of a risk-on day. And what has everyone so optimistic this morning? Why, for the umpteenth time, the White House has indicated that the US and China are close to signing that elusive phase one trade deal. By all accounts, this deal is basically a swap of Chinese promises to purchase more agricultural products from the US, allegedly upwards of $50 billion worth, while the US will roll back the tariffs most recently put in place and will not impose new ones come December 15th. And don’t get me wrong, that would be great if it helped relieve some uncertainty in both markets and business planning. But I would conservatively estimate that this is the tenth time that optimism on a trade deal has led to increased risk appetite in the past three months, and we still don’t have a deal in place. My point is we’ve seen this movie before and we know how it ends…no deal and the opportunity to see it yet again in another few weeks’ time. I challenge anyone to show me evidence that this time is different!

And yet, it continues to be effective insofar as these constant announcements have helped maintain optimism in the market. The biggest risk is that the next story describes a complete breakdown in the trade talks and the chance of a deal, even a phase one deal, being completed disappears. Risk assets would not take that lightly. But another risk is that the deal is signed, and it is as modest as it appears to be. While that would be good news initially, it would remove one of the key market supports, the prospect of that deal. I fear we would see a classic sell the news outcome in that event as well. Something to keep in mind.

Meanwhile, the world is literally burning; at least a great number of large cities are besieged by mass protests with fire a constant result. Perhaps the best known situation is in Hong Kong, where things have gone from bad to worse, the protesters’ demands are being studiously ignored and the threat of China intervening directly grows by the day. Hong Kong’s economy has been severely impacted, falling into a recession in Q3, and the official forecast for GDP growth next year is now -1.3% by the Hong Kong government.

But Hong Kong is hardly alone. Santiago, Chile has been the sight of major demonstrations, with estimates of more than one million people turning out recently. That is more than 5% of the population! In the past week, in the wake of the news that the government wanted to scrap the current constitution and write a new one, the currency collapsed 12% and the local equity market fell 6%, taking its losses since mid-October to 15%. But this morning things are looking up there as Congress has come to an agreement on how to go about this process, with the evidence leaning toward a constitutional convention that will include many voices. When the FX market opened this morning, the CLP rebounded 2.5%. Of all the protests ongoing around the world, this may be the first where a solution is being created.

These two are just the most well-known situations, but the gilets jaunes continue to protest in France more than a full year after they started. And a quick survey shows ongoing protests, a number of which are quite large and disruptive, in Peru, Indonesia, Lebanon, the Netherlands, Haiti and Israel. The point is there are a lot of very unhappy people in the world, and much of their collective angst seems to be driven by a sense of inherent unfairness in the way those (and most) countries’ are run. This is a background issue generally, but as can be seen on a daily basis in the US and the UK, these issues can have much broader impacts on economies as a whole. After all, one could argue that both the Brexit vote and the election of President Trump were protest votes as well. And certainly, the US-China trade war is a consequence of those outcomes. My point is that while most of these things may not have a daily impact, they are important to recognize as part of the fabric of the market background.

Turning to today’s markets, though, as I mentioned, rose-colored glasses are the order of the day. Equity markets are generally higher gains in Asia (Nikkei +0.7%, Australia +0.85% and South Korea +1.05%) although Shanghai actually fell 0.65% after the PBOC did not cut rates as many had hoped/expected in the wake of yesterday’s very weak data outturn. European indices are also generally doing well this morning (DAX +0.2%, CAC +0.4%) although the FTSE 100 in the UK is having a rough go, down 0.4%, because of a sharp decline in British Telecom which has fallen 2% after Jeremy Corbyn promised to nationalize the company and give everyone in the UK free broadband access. It is remarkable what politicians will say in an effort to get elected!

Bond markets have fared less well as risk has been acquired since havens are no longer needed. So Treasury yields have bounced 3bps with Bunds following suit. And in the FX market, haven currencies are also under pressure. Overall, the dollar is softer, as is the yen, which has fallen 0.3% and the Swiss franc, which has fallen 0.25%. On the positive side in G10 is NOK, which has rallied 0.65% after a stronger than expected Trade Balance helped burnish optimism that GDP growth would maintain its recent solid performance and the Norgesbank would not need to join most other central banks and ease policy. In the emerging markets, aside from CLP mentioned above, we have seen broad-based, but modest strength across most of the rest of the space, with no real stories to note.

Yesterday we heard from a whole bunch of Fed speakers and to a wo(man) they explained that the economy was in good shape (the star performer according to Powell) and that there was no need to adjust policy at this time. Data yesterday showed that Initial Claims jumped more than expected, to 225K, which is not concerning if it is a one-time situation, but needs to be carefully monitored as a precursor to a deterioration in the labor market.

This morning we see Empire Manufacturing (exp 6.0), Retail Sales (0.2%, ex autos 0.4%), IP (-0.4%) and Capacity Utilization (77.0%). All eyes will be on the Retail Sales data as last month’s surprising decline has some on edge that the US economy is starting to show some cracks. But assuming an in-line outcome, I expect the dollar to soften modestly through the rest of the day as risk is accumulated further.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf

Dying To See

Said Trump, it’s not me it’s the Fed
Preventing us moving ahead
While China and Xi
Are dying to see
A deal where all tariffs are dead

It should be no surprise that President Trump was at the center of the action yesterday, that is the place he most covets. In a speech at the Economic Club of New York, he discussed pretty much what we all expected; the economy is doing great (low unemployment, low inflation and solid growth); the Fed is holding the economy back from doing even better (give us negative rates like Europe and Japan, we deserve it) and the Chinese are dying to do a deal but the US is not going to cave in and remove tariffs without ironclad assurances that the Chinese will stop their bad behavior. After all, this has been the essence of his economically focused comments for the past year. Why would they change now? But a funny thing happened yesterday, the market did not embrace all this is good news, and we started to see a little bit of risk aversion seeping into equity prices and filter down to the bond and currency markets.

For example, although the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed yesterday just 0.3% from the all-time high set last Thursday, there has been no follow-through in markets elsewhere in the world, and, in fact, US futures are pointing lower. Now arguably, this is not entirely a result of Trump’s comments, after all there are plenty of problems elsewhere in the world. But global markets have proven to be quite vulnerable to the perception of bad news on the US-China trade negotiations front, and the fact that there is no deal clearly set to be signed is weighing on investors’ collective minds. So last night, we saw Asian markets suffer (Nikkei -0.85%, Hang Seng -1.8%, KOSPI -0.85%, Shanghai -0.35%) and this morning European markets are also under pressure (DAX -0.75%, CAC -0.45%, FTSE -0.55%, Spain’s IBEX -1.65%, Italy’s MIB -1.3%). In other words, things look pretty bad worldwide, at least from a risk perspective.

Now some of this is idiosyncratic, like Hong Kong, where the protests are becoming more violent and more entrenched and have demonstrably had a negative impact on the local economy. Of even more concern is the growing possibility that China decides to intervene directly to quell the situation, something that would likely have significant negative consequences for global markets. Too, Germany is sliding into recession (we will get confirmation with tomorrow’s Q3 GDP release) and so the engine of Europe is slowing growth throughout the EU, and the Eurozone in particular. And we cannot forget Spain, where the fourth election in four years did nothing to bring people together, and where the Socialist Party is desperately trying to cobble together a coalition to get back in power, but cannot find enough partners, even though they have begun to climb down from initial comments about certain other parties, namely Podemos, and consider them. The point is, President Trump is not the only reason that investors have become a bit skeptical about the future.

In global bond markets, we are also seeing risk aversion manifest itself, notably this morning with 10-year Treasury yields falling more than 6bps, and other havens like Bunds (-4bps) and Gilts (-5bps) following suit. There has been a great deal of ink spilled over the recent bond market price action with two factions completely at odds. There continue to be a large number of pundits and investors who see the long-term trend of interest rates still heading lower and see the recent pullback in bond prices as a great opportunity to add to their long bond positions. Similarly, there is a growing contingent who believe that we have seen the lows in yields, that inflation is beginning to percolate higher and that 10-year yields above 3.00% are going to be the reality over the course of the next year. This tension is evident when one looks at the price action where since early September, we have seen a 40bp yield rally followed by a 35bp decline in the span of five weeks. Since then, we have recouped all the losses, and then some, although we continue to see weeks where there are 15bp movements, something that is historically quite unusual. Remember, bonds have historically been a dull trading vehicle, with very limited price activity and interest generated solely for their interest-bearing qualities. These days, they are more volatile than stocks! And today, there is significant demand, indicating risk aversion is high.

Finally, the dollar continues to benefit against most of its counterparts in both the G10 and EMG blocs, at least since I last wrote on Friday. In fact, there are four G10 currencies that have performed well since then, each with a very valid reason. First, given risk aversion, it should be no surprise that both the yen and Swiss franc have strengthened in this period. Looking further, the pound got a major fillip yesterday when Nigel Farage said that his Brexit party would not contest any of the 317 seats the Tories held going into the election, thus seeming to give a boost to Boris Johnson’s electoral plans, and therefore a boost toward the end of the Brexit saga with a deal in hand. Finally, last night the RBNZ surprised almost the entire market by leaving rates on hold at 1.0%, rather than cutting 25bps as had been widely expected. The reaction was immediate with kiwi jumping 1.0% and yields in New Zealand rallying between 10 and 15 bps across the curve.

Turning to the Emerging markets, the big mover has been, of course, the Chilean peso, the erstwhile star of LATAM which has fallen more than 5.0% since Friday in the wake of the government’s decision to change the constitution in an effort to address the ongoing social unrest. But this has dragged the rest of the currencies in the region down as well, with Colombia (-2%) and Mexico (-1.7%) also feeling the effects of this action. The removal of Peruvian president, Evo Morales, has further undermined the concept of democracy in the region, and investors are turning tail pretty quickly. Meanwhile, APAC currencies have also broadly suffered, with India’s rupee the worst performer in the bunch, down 1.1% since Friday, as concerns about slowing growth there are combining with higher than expected inflation to form a terrible mix. But most of the region is under pressure due to the ongoing growth and trade concerns, with KRW (-0.9%) and PHP (-0.7%) also feeling strains on the trade story. The story is no different in EEMEA, with the bulk of the bloc lower by between 0.5% and 0.85% during the timeframe in question.

Turning to this morning, we see our first important data of the week, CPI (exp 0.3%, 0.2% core) for the month and (1.7%, 2.4% core) on an annual basis. But perhaps more importantly Chairman Powell speaks to Congress today, and everybody is trying to figure out what it is he is going to say. Most pundits believe he is going to try to maintain the message from the FOMC meeting, and one that has been reinforced constantly by his minions on the committee, namely that the economy is in a good place, that rates are appropriately set and that they will respond if they deem it necessary. And really, what else can he say?

However, overall, risk remains on the back foot today, and unless Powell is suddenly very dovish, I expect that to remain the case. As such, look for the dollar to continue to edge higher in the short term, as well as the yen, the Swiss franc and Treasuries.

Good luck
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Decidedly On

While risk is decidedly on
Investors have kept being drawn
To dollars, so they
Can still overpay
For stocks, and sometimes, a junk bond

With the trade story still titillating markets, or at least distracting them, a funny thing has happened to the broad picture; the dollar has continued to rally despite the market’s embrasure of risk. Touching on the trade story, we continue to get dueling headlines from both sides as to how things are progressing, but the key is that both sides say things are progressing. The latest is confirmation that any phase one deal will, in fact, include a rollback of some portion of the existing tariffs, and there has been absolutely no discussion regarding the mooted tariffs to be imposed on December 15th. In addition, this morning, EU President Jean-Claude Juncker announced that he was certain there would be no US tariffs on European automobiles going forward, at least no additional ones.

This has been more than sufficient to encourage the equity bulls to continue to drive indices to new highs, at least in the US, but to generally rally around the world. At the same time, this week has seen a massive selloff in haven assets, specifically in US Treasuries and German bunds. For instance, last Friday, the 10-year closed at a yield of 1.712%. This morning it is trading at 1.924%. We have seen a similar, albeit not quite as large, move in the bund market, where the yield has risen from -0.386% to -0.247%. Still a 14bp move, given the low absolute level of yields, is nothing to dismiss.

Other favorite havens are the Japanese yen and the Swiss franc, both having fallen -1.1% this week. Gold? It too is lower by 3.45%, with Silver (-7.3%) and Platinum (-5.8%) faring even worse. And yet, despite this strong risk-on market sentiment, the dollar continues to perform well against all comers. In fact it is firmer against every G10 currency (SEK and NZD have been the worst performers, each down 1.4% this week), and it is firmer vs. most of its EMG brethren, with the South African rand (+1.6%) the major outlier based on the news earlier this week that it would not lose its last investment grade rating and so bond investors would not be forced to liquidate their positions.

But it begs the question, why is the dollar remaining so strong? Typically when risk is acquired, investors are seeking the highest yielding assets they can find, which includes EMG government bonds, junk bonds and equities. Usually, the carry trade makes a big comeback, where those who view FX as an asset class simply sell dollars and earn the points. But this time around, that doesn’t seem to be the case. In fact, one might point to the fact that US yields are the highest G10 yields, and higher than many EMG yields (e.g. South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Croatia, Greece and the Czech Republic) and so on a risk adjusted basis, it appears that investors are far more willing to buy Treasuries and clip that coupon. At any rate, the dollar remains well bid across the board, and barring a sudden negative trade headline, I see no reason for this trend to change in the near term. This is especially true if US data continues to surprise to the high side, like we saw last week with the payroll numbers.

The upshot is hedgers need to beware of the current situation. While the dollar hasn’t had any days where it exploded higher, it continues to grind higher literally every day. Hedgers, at least receivables hedgers, need to be actively managing their risks.

One other thing supporting the dollar has been the change in market tone regarding the Fed’s future activities. It wasn’t that long ago, September, when the futures market was pricing in one more 25bp rate cut for December and one in March of next year. But now, looking out a full year shows there is not even one more rate full cut priced into the market. So the Fed’s dovishness has been effectively dissipated as made evident yesterday by Atlanta Fed President Rafael Bostic’s comments that if he were a voter, he would have dissented from cutting rates last week.

Looking ahead to this morning’s session, the only data we see is Michigan Sentiment (exp 95.5) at 10:00, although at 8:30 Canada releases their employment report. Yesterday’s Initial Claims data was mildly better than expected, just 211K, which indicates that the US jobs situation is not deteriorating in any real way. Perhaps a bit more surprising was the sharp decline in Consumer Credit yesterday, falling to just $9.5 billion, its lowest increase in more than a year, and a data point you can be sure will be highlighted by those pining for a recession. We also hear from three more Fed speakers, Daly, Williams and Governor Lael Brainerd, although both Daly and Brainerd are speaking at a climate change conference, which seems a less likely venue to discuss monetary policy.

Overall, the dollar remains bid and while it may stall as it runs into some profit-taking this afternoon, there is no reason to believe it is going to reverse course anytime soon.

Good luck and good weekend
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Removal of Tariffs

According to some in Beijing
Removal of tariffs’ the thing
That ought to diminish
And fin’lly help finish
The problems the trade war did bring

Another day, another story about progress in the trade talks. Given the complete lack of movement actually seen, a cynic might conclude that both sides have realized just talking about progress is probably as effective as making progress, maybe more so. After all, making progress requires both sides to make actual decisions. Talking about progress just hints that those decisions are being made. And let’s face it; the one thing at which politicians have proven especially inept is making decisions. At any rate, the news early this morning was that part of the elusive phase one deal would be simultaneous rollbacks of the current tariff schedules. If true, that is a great leap forward from simply delaying the imposition of new tariffs. But the key is, if true. At this point, it has become difficult to recognize the difference between actual progress and trial balloons. The one thing going for this story is it was put out by the Chinese, not President Trump. Of course, that could simply be a negotiating tactic trying to force Trump’s hand.

It should be no surprise that the market reacted quite positively to the story, with equity markets in Asia turning around from early losses to close higher on the day. While the Nikkei just clawed back to +0.1%, the Hang Seng finished higher by 0.6% and Australia’s ASX 200 gained 1.0% on the day. Europe has followed the trend with the DAX leading the way, +0.75%, and the rest of the Continent showing gains of between 0.2% (CAC) and 0.6% (IBEX). And of course, US futures turned higher on the news, now showing gains of approximately 0.5% across all three.

So risk is in vogue once again. Treasuries and Bunds have both sold off sharply, with yields in the 10-year space higher by roughly 6bps in both markets. And the dollar, as would be expected, is under further pressure this morning.

A trade truce cannot come soon enough for Germany, which once again released worse than expected data. This morning’s miss was IP, which fell 0.6% in September, and is down 4.3% Y/Y. So while yesterday’s Factory Orders seemed positive, they also seem like the outlier, not the trend. However, given the dollar’s overall performance this morning, it should be no surprise that the euro has edged higher, rising 0.1% as I type. But a step back for some perspective shows that the euro has actually done essentially nothing for the past month, trading within a range barely exceeding 1.0%. It will take more than just the occasional positive or negative economic print to change this story.

And perhaps there is a story brewing that will do just that. Several weeks ago there was a Bloomberg article about inflation in the Eurozone, specifically in Spain, that highlighted the dichotomy between the low rate of measured inflation, which in Spain is running at 1.0%, and the fact that the cost of home ownership and rent is rising at a double digit pace. It turns out that the European CPI measurements have rent as just 6.5% of the index and don’t even include the costs of home ownership. In contrast, those represent more than 30% of the US CPI measurement! And housing costs throughout Europe are rising at a much faster rate, something on the order of 3.0%+ over the past five years. In other words, a CPI basket constructed to include what Europeans actually spend their money on, rather than on some theoretical construct, would almost certainly have resulted in higher CPI readings and potentially would have prevented the poisonous negative interest rate conundrum.

With this in mind, and considering Madame Lagarde’s review of ECB policy, there is a chance, albeit a small one, that the ECB will consider changing the metric, and with a change in the metric, the need for further QE and NIRP will diminish greatly. That would be hugely euro positive! This is something to watch for going forward.

The other big news that just hit the tape was from the Bank of England, where while rates were left unchanged, two members of the MPC voted to cut rates by 25bps in a complete surprise. Apparently, there is growing concern inside the Old Lady that the recent weakening data portends further problems regardless of the election outcome. Of course, regarding the election, the fact that both the Tories and Labour are promising huge new spending plans, the need for low rates is clear. After all, it is much easier to borrow if interest rates are 0.5% than 5.0%! The pound, which had been trading modestly higher before the news quickly fell 0.4% and is now back toward the lower end of its recent trading range. Sometimes I think central banks do things simply to prove that they matter to the markets, but in this case, given the ongoing economic malaise in the UK, it does seem likely that a rate cut is in the offing.

As to the rest of the market, some of the biggest gainers this morning are directly related to the US-China trade story, with the offshore renminbi trading higher by 0.6% and back to its strongest level in three months’ time. In addition we have seen NOK rally 0.85%, which seems to be on the back of stronger oil and the fact that easing trade tensions are likely to further support the price of crude. Combining this with the fact that the krone has been mysteriously weak given its fundamentals, relatively strong economic growth and positive interest rates, it looks like a lot of short positions are getting squeezed out.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Brazilian real, which yesterday tumbled 2.0% after a widely anticipated auction of off-shore oil drilling rights turned into a flop, raising just $17 billion, far less than the $26 billion expected. In fact, two of the three parcels had no bids, and no oil majors were involved. While they will certainly put them up for auction again, the market’s disappointment was clear. It should also be no surprise that the real is rebounding a bit on the open, currently higher by 0.5%.

On the data front this morning the only thing of note is Initial Claims (exp 215K) and there are two more Fed speakers on the agenda, Kaplan and Bostic. However, the plethora of speakers we have heard this week have all remained on message, things are good and policy is appropriate, but if needed we will do more.

And that’s really it. I expect we will continue to hear more about the trade talks and perhaps get a bit more clarity on the proposed tariff rollbacks. But it will take a lot to turn the risk story around, and as such, I expect the dollar will continue to be under pressure as the session progresses.

Good luck
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Not Been Sated

As markets, a trade deal, awaited
Risk appetite has not been sated
The headlines insist
That barring a twist
Phase one will soon be activated

Hooray!! Phase One of the trade deal is almost complete and apparently President’s Trump and Xi are planning a meeting to sign this historic document. At least that’s today’s story to pump up global equity markets. Actually, I assume that will be tomorrow’s as well, just as it has been the story for the past two weeks. But whether or not this comes to pass, the current view is quite positive and risk assets are back in demand. Equity markets are generally higher worldwide, with Asia showing significant strength (Nikkei +1.75%, Shanghai +0.55%, KOSPI +0.6%), although Europe is having a more muted session (DAX 0.0%, CAC +0.15%, FTSE +0.25%). Meanwhile, US futures are currently pointing to a 0.25% rise at the open.

Other evidence of increased risk appetite has been the decline in both Treasury and Bund prices, with the former seeing yields rise a further 4bps this morning and the latter 2bps. A quick look at the recent price history of the 10-year shows that one week ago they were trading at 1.84% and in the interim they fell to 1.69% before rebounding to this morning’s 1.82% level. A slightly longer term view shows a picture of a market that looks like it bottomed in early September, when the 10-year traded to 1.457% amidst escalating fears of everything, and is now slowly trying to head a bit higher. If the Fed has truly stopped cutting rates, and if they maintain their current ‘not-QE’ version of QE, purchasing $60 billion/month of T-bills, I expect we are looking at a much steeper yield curve and the chance for the dollar to resume its rally. (Historically, the dollar performs better in a steepening yield curve environment.)

However, that dollar movement is much more of a long-term trend than a day to day prescription, and in fact, this morning’s risk-on movement has seen the dollar soften further, except against the other two haven currencies, the Swiss franc (-0.35%) and the Japanese yen (-0.25%). The most notable mover has arguably been the Chinese reniminbi, which has rallied 0.5% and is back below 7.00 for the first time since early August. You may recall that time as a severe escalation of the trade conflict and fears were rampant that the PBOC was going to allow the renminbi to weaken substantially to offset tariffs. Of course, that never happened, and ostensibly, part of the trade deal is a Chinese promise to prevent significant currency weakness. (You know, manipulation of a currency is fine when it works in your favor, just not when it works against you.) At any rate, CNY has been strengthening steadily for the past month and has recouped 2.3% in that time. Quite frankly, despite the fact that the slowdown in the Chinese economy would argue for a weaker currency, I expect that we will continue to see modest strength in the renminbi; at least until the trade deal is signed.

In the G10 space, today’s big winner is the Aussie dollar, which is higher by 0.45% this morning and has rallied 3.65% since its recent trough in the beginning of October. Given the country’s close ties to China, it should be no surprise that positive news regarding China helps the AUD. In addition, last night the RBA met and left rates on hold, which while widely expected was a bit of a relief given they cut rates in the past three meetings. While they maintained their easing bias, the market is gaining optimism that the global trade situation will improve shortly and that Aussie will benefit. While the move in Aussie did help drag kiwi higher (+0.25%), the rest of the space is entirely uninteresting.

In the EMG bloc, South Africa’s rand is the leader, gaining 0.65% as the market continues to absorb the fact that Moody’s left them with an investment grade rating. While things are still precarious there, perhaps a relaxation of trade tensions globally will allow the country to stabilize their finances and the currency to stabilize as well. On the flip side, Chile’s peso has opened under pressure, falling 0.65% after Retail Sales there were released at a much worse than expected -0.9% (expected +1.8%). Clearly the ongoing protests are having an impact and as in most places around the world, there doesn’t appear to be any end in sight.

On the calendar this morning we see the Trade balance (exp -$52.4B) as well as the JOLTS Jobs report (7.063M) and finally, at 10:00 ISM Non-Manufacturing (51.0). You may recall the ISM data on Friday was soft at 48.3, and this morning we saw UK Services PMI print at a better than expected 50.0. The best explanation I can give is that we are at an inflection point in the global economy, where what has clearly been a slowing trend may finally be responding to the massive stimulus efforts by the world’s central banks. (FYI, the PBOC reduced its 1-year lending rate by 5bps last night, the first cut since 2016). But inflection points are probably more accurately referred to as inflection curves, since things are not going to turn around quickly. I anticipate we are going to see mixed data for some time into the future. This will allow both bulls and bears to use data to make their respective cases.

In the end, unless today’s data is horrendous, I expect that the risk-on scenario will continue to drive markets and the dollar will likely soften a bit further before it is all over.

Good luck
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Get Out of My Face!

“The economy’s in a good place”
Which means we can slacken the pace
Of future rate cuts
No ifs, ands or buts
So Donald, ‘get out of my face’!

Reading between the lines of yesterday’s FOMC statement and the Powell press conference, it seems abundantly clear that Chairman Powell is feeling pretty good about himself and what the Fed has achieved. He was further bolstered by the data yesterday which showed GDP grew at a 1.9% clip in Q3, far better than the expected 1.6% pace and that inflation, as measured by the GDP deflator, rose 2.2%, also clearly around the levels that the Fed seeks. In other words, although he didn’t actually say, ‘mission accomplished’, it is clearly what he wants everybody to believe. The upshot is that he was able to convince the market that the Fed has no more reason to cut rates anytime soon. But more importantly from a market perspective, he explained at the press conference that the bar was quite high for the Fed to consider raising rates again. And that was all he needed to say for equity markets to launch to yet another new high, and for the dollar, which initially had rallied on the FOMC statement, to turn tail and fall pretty sharply. And the dollar remains under pressure this morning with the euro rising a further 0.15%, the pound a further 0.45% and the yen up 0.5%.

Of course, the pound has its own drivers these days as the UK gears up for its election on December 12. According to the most recent polls, the Tories lead the race with 34%, while Labour is at 26%, the Lib-Dems at 19% and the Brexit party at 12%. After that there are smaller parties like the DUP from Northern Ireland and the Scottish National Party. The most interesting news is that the Brexit party is allegedly considering withdrawing from a number of races in order to allow the Tories to win and get Brexit completed. And after all, once Brexit has been executed, there really is no need for the Brexit party, and so its voting bloc will have to find a home elsewhere.

Something that has been quite interesting recently is the change in tone from analysts regarding the pound’s future depending on the election. While on the surface it seems that the odds of a no-deal Brexit have greatly receded, there are a number of analysts who point out that a strong showing by the Brexit party, especially if Boris cannot manage a majority on his own, could lead to a much more difficult transition period and bring that no-deal situation back to life. As well, on the other side of the coin, a strong Lib-Dem showing, who have been entirely anti-Brexit and want it canceled, could result in a much stronger pound, something I have pointed out several times in the past. Ultimately, though, from my seat 3500 miles away from the action, I sense that Boris will complete his takeover of the UK government, complete Brexit and return to domestic issues. And the pound will benefit to the tune of another 2%-3% in that scenario.

The recent trade talks, called ‘phase one’
According to both sides are done
But China’s now said
That looking ahead
A broad deal fails in the long run

A headline early this morning turned the tide on markets, which were getting pretty comfortable with the idea that although the Fed may not be cutting any more, they had completely ruled out raising rates. But the Chinese rained on that parade as numerous sources indicated that they had almost no hope for a broader long-term trade deal with the US as they were not about to change their economic model. Of course, it cannot be a surprise this is the case, given the success they have had in the past twenty years and the fact that they believe they have the ability to withstand the inevitable economic slowdown that will continue absent a new trading arrangement. Last night, the Chinese PMI data released was much worse than expected with Manufacturing falling to 49.3 while Services fell to 52.8, both of which missed market estimates. However, the latest trade news implies that President Xi, while he needs to be able to feed his people, so is willing to import more agricultural products from the US, is also willing to allow the Chinese economy to slow substantially further. Interestingly, the renminbi has been a modest beneficiary of this news rallying 0.15% on shore, which takes its appreciation over the past two months to 2.1%. Eventually, I expect to see the renminbi weaken further, but it appears that for now, until phase one is complete, the PBOC is sticking to its plan to keep the currency stable.

Finally, last night the BOJ left policy unchanged, however, in their policy statement they explicitly mentioned that they may lower rates if the prospect of reaching their 2% inflation goal remained elusive. This is the first time they have talked about lowering rates from their current historically low levels (-0.1%) although the market response has been somewhat surprising. I think it speaks to the belief that the BOJ has run out of room with monetary policy and that the market is pricing in more deflation, hence a stronger currency. Of course, part of this move is related to the dollar’s weakness, but I expect that the yen has further to climb regardless of the dollar’s future direction.

In the EMG bloc there were two moves of note yesterday, both sharp declines. First Chile’s peso fell 1.5% after President Sebastian Pinera canceled the APEC summit that was to be held in mid-November due to the ongoing unrest in the country. Remember, Chile is one of the dozen nations where there are significant demonstrations ongoing. The other big loser was South Africa’s rand, which fell 2.9% yesterday after the government there outlined just how big a problem Eskom, the major utility, is going to be for the nation’s finances (hint: really big!). And that move is not yet finished as earlier this morning the rand had fallen another 1.1%, although it has since recouped a portion of the day’s losses.

On the data front, after yesterday’s solid GDP numbers, this morning we see Personal Income (exp 0.3%); Personal Spending (0.3%); Core PCE (0.1%, 1.7% Y/Y); Initial Claims (215K) and Chicago PMI (48.0). And of course, tomorrow is payroll day with all that brings to the table. For now, the dollar is under pressure and as there are no Fed speakers on the docket, it appears traders are either unwinding old long dollar positions, or getting set for the next wave of weakness. All told, it is hard to make a case for much dollar strength today, although strong data is likely to prevent any further weakness.

Good luck
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Choler on Display

There once was a large group of nations
Whose common goal was trade relations
But then as time passed
More rules they amassed
Which caused, for the Brits, complications

So three years ago, the UK
Decided to go its own way
Then Europe was miffed
Lamenting the rift
And put their choler on display

Along then came Boris the blond
Who’s tried to move Britain beyond
The uncertain ways
Of Brexit delays
But Europe’s now scared to respond

Alas, we are back to Brexit as the key story this morning. In a nutshell; the EU indicated they would offer a three-month extension, to January 31, 2020 but has not confirmed that; Boris called for an election to be held on December 12 in order to consolidate what he perceives to be his current power, but Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn insists that, though he wants to have an election, he will not do so until it is guaranteed there is no hard Brexit. Boris’s argument is that he has a deal that has been approved in principal by Parliament, so there should be no hard Brexit. However, Corbyn seems to realize that an election before Brexit is likely to lead to a significant Tory victory, so he won’t allow it. Meanwhile, the jellyfish in Brussels can’t make up their collective mind as to how long the extension should be and are claiming they ‘don’t want to get involved in UK politics’! Are they kidding? They have been involved in UK politics since the vote in June 2016. I tell you, the next decision they make will be their first. At any rate, we are now in a catch-22 where the EU doesn’t want to decide on the length of an extension until the situation in London is clearer, while Labour will prevent an election until they know the situation in Brussels.

All this has been somewhat negative for the pound, which saw quite a bit of volatility in yesterday’s session, falling a bit more than 1.0% during the NY morning as this saga started to play out, although it rebounded and recouped about half of those losses by the end of the day. This morning, price action has been quite choppy, but the range has been much smaller. As I type, the pound is lower by just 0.1%, but it has traded both sides of its trading range today, 1.2825-1.2860 four times. My advice is if you have to trade cable right now, leaving an order at your preferred level is the best practice.

In the end, while the market has priced in a slightly higher probability of a no-deal Brexit, I continue to firmly believe that the outcome will be the current deal will be passed and the pound will be set to trade substantially higher, with a medium term target of 1.35.

Yesterday was also Signor Draghi’s final meeting as ECB President and he kept to the script. He exhorted Eurozone members, who could afford to do so, to increase fiscal stimulus. He said the current monetary policy stance was appropriate and would remain in place until inflation was stable at the ECB’s target of ‘just below 2.0%’, and he insisted there was plenty more the ECB can do if necessary. But now it is Madame Lagarde’s problem going forward, as she will be installed as ECB president one week from today. And the euro? Well it has been pretty dull for the past week, trading in a tight range as it consolidates its 2.5% gains since the beginning of the month. We continue to get pretty lousy Eurozone data, with today’s survey data showing Consumer Confidence continuing to decline while the IFO Business data remained unchanged at its lowest level in more than ten years. There has been some effort to spin this as positive, but that’s a hard case to make.

On the trade front, there has been no real news, although China appears to be relenting with regard to pork imports as some 60% of their swine herd has been decimated by African swine fever and pork prices on the mainland have exploded higher. And remember, the US is not imposing tariffs on their own pork, it is China that is doing so for political reasons. Thus, if the domestic politics outweighs the trade politics, you can be sure there will be no tariffs on pork! So far, it still seems like President’s Trump and Xi are on track to sign a phase 1 deal next month at the APEC conference in Chile, but that is a long way away.

Elsewhere in the FX market, it is dullsville. I cannot find a single currency that has moved even 0.4% vs. the dollar, with most plus or minus 10bps or less from yesterday’s closing levels. Treasury prices are little changed as are equity markets in Europe and US futures. In other words, there is not a lot ongoing right now.

Looking at the data story, yesterday’s Durable Goods data was a bit disappointing, but not horrifying. This morning we are awaiting Michigan Sentiment (exp 96.0) but that hardly seems likely to move markets. For now, given the lack of Fedspeak, earnings data and its impact on equity markets are likely to be the biggest influencers of spot FX. That is, of course, unless we hear something unexpected from London, Brussels or Washington. However, it is shaping up as a day of consolidation ahead of next week’s FOMC and BOJ meetings, as well as the pending decision by the EU on the length of any Brexit delay. Enjoy the quiet while it lasts!

Good luck and good weekend
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