Up Sh*t’s Creek

Much time has progressed
Since last I manned a bank desk
But I have returned

Good morning all. Briefly I wanted to let you know that I have begun a new role at Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp. (SMBC) as of Monday morning and look forward to rekindling so many wonderful relationships while trying to assist in risk management in an increasingly uncertain world. Don’t hesitate to reach out to chat.

Said Trump well those tariffs can wait
Until it’s a much later date
That opened the door
To buy stocks and more
Now don’t you all feel simply great?

But trade is still problematique
And that’s why the view is so bleak
In Europe they’re shrinking
And China is sinking
It seems the world’s now up sh*t’s creek

Volatility continues to reign in markets as the combination of trade commentary and economic data force constant u-turns by traders and investors. Yesterday afternoon, President Trump decided to delay the imposition of tariffs on the remaining Chinese exports from the mooted September 1st start to a date in mid-December. While that hardly seems enough time to conclude any negotiations, the market reaction was swift and yesterday morning’s risk-off session was completely reversed. Stocks turned around and closed more than 1% higher. Treasuries sold off with yields jumping 5bps in the 10-year and the dollar reversed course with USDJPY rocking 1.5% higher while USDCNY tumbled more than 1%. But that was then…

The world looks less sanguine this morning, however, after data releases last night and this morning showed that the fears over a slowing global economy are well warranted. For instance, Chinese data was uniformly awful with Industrial Production falling to 4.8% growth in July, well below the 6.0% estimate and the slowest growth since they began producing data 17 years ago. Retail Sales were also much weaker than expected, rising 7.6% Y/Y in July vs. expectations of an 8.6% rise. If there were any questions as to whether or not the trade war is impacting China, they were answered emphatically last night…YES.

Then early this morning Germany released its Q2 GDP data at -0.1%, as expected but the second quarter of the past four where the economy has shrunk. Additional Eurozone data showed IP there falling -1.6%, its worst showing since February 2016. Meanwhile, inflation data continues to show a complete lack of price pressure and Eurozone Q2 GDP grew just 0.2%, also as expected but also awful. It should be no surprise that this has led to another reversal in investor psychology as the hopes engendered in the Trump comments yesterday has completely evaporated.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the 2yr-10yr Treasury spread actually inverted this morning for the first time, although it had come close several times during the past months. But not only did the Treasury curve invert there, so did Gilts in the UK and we are seeing the same thing in Japan. At the same time, Bunds have fallen to yet another new low in the 10-year, trading at a yield of -0.645% as I type. The upshot is that combined with the weak economic data, the inverted yield curves have historically implied a recession was on the way. While there are those who are convinced ‘this time is different’ because of how central banks have impacted yield curves with their QE, it is all still pointing down to me.

With all that in mind, let’s take a look at markets this morning. Overnight we have seen a mixed picture in the FX market, with the yen retracing some of yesterday’s weakness, rallying 0.7%, while Aussie and the Skandies have led to the downside with all three falling 0.7% or so. As to the euro and the pound, neither has moved at all overnight. But I think it is instructive to look at the two day move, given the volatility we have seen and over that timeline, the dollar has simply rallied against the entire G10 space. Granted vs. the pound it has been a deminimis 0.1%, but CHF, EUR and CAD are all lower by 0.3% since Monday and the yen is still weaker by 0.6% snice Monday.

In the EMG space, KRW was the big winner overnight, rallying 0.8% after the tariff delay, and we also saw IDR benefit by 0.5%. CNY, meanwhile, was fixed slightly stronger and the offshore currency has held onto that strength, rising 0.35%. On the downside, ZAR is the big loser overnight, falling 1.0% as foreign investors are selling South African bonds ahead of a feared ratings downgrade into junk. We have also seen MXN retrace half of yesterday’s post trade story gain, falling 0.65% at this time.

Looking ahead to this morning’s session, there is little in the way of data that is likely to drive markets so we should continue to see sentiment as the key market mover. Right now, sentiment is not very positive so I expect risk to be jettisoned as can be seen in the equity futures with all down solidly so far. As to the dollar, I like it vs. the EMG bloc, maybe a little less vs. the G10.

Good luck
Adf

 

Demand, More, to Whet

In Asia three central banks met
And all three explained that the threat
Of trade tensions rising
Required revising
Their pathway, demand, more, to whet

The RBNZ cut rates 50bps last night, surprising markets and analysts, all of whom were expecting a 25bp rate cut. The rationale was weakening global growth and increased uncertainty over the escalation of the trade fight between the US and China were sufficient cause to attempt to get ahead of the problem. They seem to be following NY Fed President Williams’ dictum that when rates are low, cutting rates aggressively is the best central bank policy. It should be no surprise that the NZD fell sharply on the news, and this morning it is lower by 1.4% and back to levels not seen since the beginning of 2016.

The Bank of Thailand cut rates 25bps last night, surprising markets and analysts, none of whom were expecting any rate cut at all. The rationale was … (see bold type above). The initial FX move was for a 0.9% decline in THB, although it has since recouped two-thirds of those losses and currently sits just 0.3% lower than yesterday’s close. THB has been the best performing currency in Asia this year as the Thai economy has done a remarkable job of skating past many of the trade related problems affecting other nations there. However, the central bank indicated it would respond as necessary going forward, implying more rate cuts could come if deemed appropriate.

The RBI cut rates 35bps last night, surprising markets and analysts, most of whom were expecting a 25bp rate cut. The rationale was… (see bold type above). The accompanying policy statement was clearly dovish and indicted that future rate cuts are on the table if the economic path does not improve. However, this morning INR is actually stronger by 0.3% as there was a whiff of ‘buy the rumor, sell the news’ attached to this move. The rupee had already weakened 3% this week, so clearly market anticipation, if not analysts’ views, was for an even more dovish outcome.

These are not the last interest rate moves we are going to see, and we are going to see them from a widening group of central banks. You can be sure, given last night’s activity, that the Philippine central bank is going to be cutting rates when they meet this evening and now the question is, will they cut only the 25bps analysts are currently expecting, or will they take their cues from last night’s activity and cut 50bps to get ahead of the curve? Last night the peso fell 0.4% and is down 2.5% in the past week. It feels to me like the market is pricing in a bigger cut than 25bps. We shall see.

This central bank activity seems contra to the fact that equity markets are stabilizing quickly from Monday’s sell-off. The idea that because the PBOC didn’t allow another sharp move lower last night in the renminbi is an indication that there is no prospect for further weakness in the currency is ridiculous. (After all, CNY did fall 0.4% overnight). The global rate cutting cycle is starting to pick up steam, and as more central banks respond, it will force the others to do the same. The market has now priced in a 100% probability of a 25bp Fed cut at the September meeting. Comments from Fed members Daly and Bullard were explicit that the increased trade tensions have thrown a spanner into their models and that some preemption may be warranted.

A quick survey of government bond yields shows that Treasuries are down 4bps to 1.66%, new lows for the move; Bunds are down 5.5bps to -0.59% and a new historic low; while JGB’s are down 3bps to -0.21%, below the BOJ’s target of -0.2% / +0.2% for the first time since they instituted their yield curve control process. Bond investors and stock investors seem to have very different views of the world right now, but there are more markets aligning with bonds than stocks.

For instance, gold prices are up another 1% overnight, to $1500/oz, their highest in six years and show no sign of slowing down. Oil prices are down just 0.2% overnight, but more than 8% in the past week, as demand indicators decline more than offsetting production declines.

And of course, economic data continues to demonstrate the ongoing economic malaise globally. Early this morning, June German IP fell 1.5%, much worse than expected and from a downwardly revised May number, indicating even further weakness. It is becoming abundantly clear that the Eurozone is heading into a recession and that the ECB is going to be forced into aggressive action next month. Not only do I expect a 20bp rate cut, down to -0.60%, but I expect that QE is going to be restarted right away and expanded to include a larger portion of corporate bonds. And don’t rule out equities!

So, for now we are seeing simultaneous risk-on (equity rally) and risk-off (bond, gold, yen rallies) on our screens. The equity investor belief in the benefits of lower interest rates is quite strong, although I believe we are reaching a point where lower rates are not the solution to the problem. The problem is economic uncertainty due to changes in international trade relations, it is not a lack of access to capital. But lowering rates is all the central banks can do.

Overall, the dollar is stronger this morning as only a handful of currencies, notably the yen as a haven and INR as described above, have managed to gain ground. I expect that this will continue to be the pattern unless the Fed does something truly surprising like a 50bp cut in September or even more unlikely, a surprise inter-meeting cut. They have done that before, but it doesn’t seem to be in Chairman Powell’s wheelhouse.

The only data today is Consumer Credit this afternoon (exp $16.0B) and we hear from Chicago Fed President Charles Evans, a known dove later today. But equity futures are pointing higher and for now, the idea that Monday’s sharp decline was an opportunity rather than a harbinger of the future remains front and center. However, despite the equity market, I have a feeling the dollar is likely to maintain its overnight gains and perhaps extend them as well.

Good luck
Adf

Open and Shut

Kashakari, on Friday, explained
For US growth to be sustained
The case for a cut
Was open and shut
Since then, talk of fifty has gained

As the new week begins, last week’s late trends remain in place, i.e. limited equity market movement as uncertainty over the outcome of the Trump-Xi meeting continues, continued demand for yield as investors’ collective belief grows that more monetary ease is on the way around the world, and a softening dollar vs. other currencies and commodities, as the prevailing assumption is that the US has far more room to ease policy than any other central bank. Certainly, the last statement is true as US rates remain the highest in the developed world, so simply cutting them back to the zero bound will add much more than the stray 20bps that the ECB, which is already mired in negative territory, can possibly add.

It is this concept which has adjusted my shorter-term view on the dollar, along with the view of most dollar bulls. However, as I have discussed repeatedly, at some point, the dollar will have adjusted, especially since the rest of the world will need to get increasingly aggressive if the dollar starts to really decline. As RBA Governor Lowe mentioned in a speech, one of the key methods of policy ease transmission by any country is by having the local currency decline relative to its peers, but if everyone is easing simultaneously, then that transmission channel is not likely to be as effective. In other words, this is yet another central bank head calling for fiscal policy stimulus as he admits the limits that exist in monetary policy at this time. Alas, the herd mentality is strong in the central bank community, and so I anticipate that all of them will continue down the same path with a minimal ultimate impact.

What we do know as of last week is there are at least two FOMC members who believe rates should be lower now, Bullard and Kashkari, and I suspect that there are a number more who don’t have to be pushed that hard to go along, notably Chairman Powell himself. Remember, if markets start to decline sharply, he will want to avoid as much of the blame as possible, so if the Fed is cutting rates, he covers himself. And quite frankly, I expect that almost regardless of how the data prints in the near-term, we are going to see policy ease across the board. Every central bank is too committed at this point to stop.

The upshot of all this is that this week is likely to play out almost exactly like Friday. This means a choppy equity market with no trend, a slowly softening dollar and rising bond markets, as all eyes turn toward Osaka, Japan, where the G20 is to meet on Friday and Saturday. Much to their chagrin, it is not the G20 statement of leaders that is of concern, rather it is the outcome of the Trump-Xi meeting that matters. In fact, that is pretty much the only thing that investors are watching this week, especially since the data releases are so uninteresting.

At this point, we can only speculate on how things will play out, but what is interesting is that we have continued to hear a hard line from the Chinese press. Declaring that they will fight “to the end” regarding the trade situation, as well as warning the US on doing anything regarding the ongoing protests in Hong Kong. Look for more bombast before the two leaders meet, but I think the odds favor a more benign resolution, at least at this point.

Turning to the data situation, the only notable data overnight was German Ifo, which fell to 97.4, its lowest level since November 2014, and continuing the ongoing trend of weak Eurozone data. However, the euro continues to rally on the overwhelming belief that the US is set to ease policy further, and this morning is higher by 0.25%, and back to its highest point in 3 months. As to the rest of the week, here’s what to look forward to:

Tuesday Case-Hiller Home Prices 2.6%
  Consumer Confidence 131.2
  New Home Sales 680K
Wednesday Durable Goods -0.1%
  -ex transport 0.1%
Thursday Initial Claims 220K
  Q1GDP 3.2%
Friday Personal Income 0.3%
  Personal Spending 0.4%
  Core PCE 0.2% (1.6% Y/Y)
  Chicago PMI 53.1
  Michigan Sentiment 98.0

Arguably, the most important point is the PCE data on Friday, but of more importance is the fact that we are going to hear from four more Fed speakers early this week, notably Chairman Powell on Tuesday afternoon. And while the Fed sounded dovish last week, with the subsequent news that Kashkari was aggressively so, all eyes will be looking to see if he is persuading others. We will need to see remarkably strong data to change this narrative going forward. And that just seems so unlikely right now.

In the end, as I said at the beginning, this week is likely to shape up like Friday, with limited movement, and anxiety building as we all await the Trump-Xi meeting. And that means the dollar is likely to continue to slide all week.

Good luck
Adf

Oy Vey!

The jobs report was quite the dud
And traders began smelling blood
If Powell and friends
Would not make amends
Then stocks would be dragged through the mud

Then later, down Mexico’s way
The tariff dispute went away
At least for the moment
Though Trump could still foment
More problems by tweeting, oy vey!

This morning, despite the confusion
The outcome’s a foregone conclusion
Stock markets will rise
While bonds scrutinize
The data, and fight the illusion

I’m not even sure where to start this morning. Friday’s market activity was largely as I had forecast given the weak payrolls report, just a 75K rise in NFP along with weaker earnings numbers, leading to a massive increase in speculation that the Fed is going to cut, and cut soon. In fact, the probability for a June cut of 25bps is now about 50/50, with a full cut priced in for the July meeting and a total of 70bps of cuts priced in for the rest of 2019. Equity markets worldwide have rallied on the weak data as a new narrative has developed as follows: weaker US growth will force the Fed to ease policy sooner than previously forecast and every other central bank will be forced to follow suit and ease policy as well. And since the reaction function for equity markets has nothing to do with economic activity, being entirely dependent on central bank largesse, it should be no surprise that stock markets are higher everywhere. Adding to the euphoria was the announcement by the Trump administration that those potential Mexican tariffs have been suspended indefinitely after progress was made with respect to the ongoing immigration issues at the US southern border.

This combination of news and data was all that was needed to reverse the Treasury market rally from earlier in the week, with 10-year yields higher by 5bps this morning, and the dollar, which had fallen broadly on Friday, down about 0.6% across the board after the payroll report, has rebounded against most of its counterpart currencies. The one outlier here is the Mexican peso, which after the tariff threat had fallen by nearly 3%, has rebounded and is 2.0% higher vs. the dollar this morning.

To say that we live in a looking glass world where up is down and down is up may not quite capture the extent of the overall market confusion. One thing is certain though, and that is we are likely to continue to see market volatility increase going forward.

Let’s unpack the Fed portion of the story, as I believe it will be most helpful in trying to anticipate how things will play out going forward. President Trump’s threats against Mexico really shook up the market but had an even bigger impact on the Fed. Consider, we have not heard the word ‘patient’ from a Fed speaker since Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester used the word on May 3rd. When the FOMC minutes were released on May 22, the term was rampant, but the world had changed by then. In the interim, we had seen the US-China trade talks fall apart and an increase in tariffs by both sides, as well as threats of additional actions, notably the banning of Huawei products in the US and the restriction of rare earth metals sales by China. At this point, the trade situation is referred to as a war by both sides and most pundits. We have also seen weaker US economic activity, with Retail Sales and Housing data suffering, along with manufacturing and production. While no one is claiming we are in recession yet, the probabilities of one arriving are seen as much higher.

The result of all this weak data and trade angst was a pretty sharp sell-off in the equity markets, which as we all know, seems to be the only thing that causes the Fed to react. And it did so again, with the Fed speakers over the past two weeks highlighting the weakening data and lack of inflation and some even acknowledging that a rate cut would be appropriate (Bullard and Evans.) This drove full on speculation that the Fed was about to ease policy and futures markets have now gone all-in on the idea. It would actually be disconcerting if the Fed acted after a single poor data point, so June still seems only a remote possibility, but when they meet next week, look for a much more dovish statement and for Chairman Powell to be equally dovish in the press conference afterward.

And remember, if the Fed is turning the page on ‘normalization’ there is essentially no chance that any other major central bank will be able to normalize policy either. In fact, what we have heard from both the ECB’s Draghi and BOJ’s Kuroda-san lately are defenses of the many tools they still have left to utilize in their efforts to raise inflation and inflationary expectations. But really, all they have are the same tools they’ve used already. So, look for interest rates to fall further, even where they are already negative, as well as more targeted loans and more QE. And the new versions of QE will include purchases that go far beyond government bonds. We will see much more central bank buying of equities and corporate bonds, and probably mortgages and municipals before it is all over.

Ultimately, the world has become addicted to central bank policy largesse, and I fear the only way this cycle will be broken is by a crisis, where really big changes are made (think debt jubilee), as more of the same is not going to get the job done. And that will be an environment where havens will remain in demand, so dollars, yen, Treasuries and Bunds, and probably gold will all do quite well. Maybe not immediately, but that is where we are headed.

Enough doom and gloom. Let’s pivot to the data story this week, which is actually pretty important:

Today JOLTs Jobs Report 7.479M
Tuesday NFIB Small Biz 102.3
  PPI 0.1% (2.0% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.2% (2.3% Y/Y)
Wednesday CPI 0.1% (1.9% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.2% (2.1% Y/Y)
Thursday Initial Claims 216K
Friday Retail Sales 0.7%
  -ex autos 0.3%
  IP 0.1%
  Capacity Utilization 78.7%
  Michigan Sentiment 98.1

Clearly CPI will be closely watched, with any weakness just fanning the flames for rate cuts sooner. Also, after the weak NFP report Friday, I expect closer scrutiny for the Initial Claims data. This has been quite steady at low levels for some time, but many pundits will be watching for an uptick here as confirmation that the jobs market is starting to soften. Finally, Retail Sales will also be seen as important, especially given the poor outcome last month, which surprised one and all.

Mercifully, the Fed is in its quiet period ahead of their meeting next week, so we won’t be hearing from them. Right now, however, the momentum for a rate cut continues to build and stories in the media are more about potential weakness in the economy than in the strength that we had seen several months ago. If the focus remains on US economic activity softening, the dollar should come under pressure, but once we see that spread to other areas, notably the UK and Europe, where they had soft data this morning, I expect those pressures to equalize. For today, though, I feel like the dollar is still vulnerable.

Good luck
Adf

Soon On the Way

While Powell did not actually say
That rate cuts were soon on the way
He hinted as much
So traders did clutch
The idea and quickly made hay

If there was ever any doubt as to what is driving the equity markets, it was put to rest yesterday morning. Chairman Powell, during his discussion of the economy and any potential challenges said the following, “We are closely monitoring the implications of these developments for the U.S. economic outlook and, as always, we will act as appropriate to sustain the expansion.” Nowhere in that comment does he actually talk about cutting rates, but the market belief is that ‘appropriate action’ is just that. The result was a powerful equity market rally (DJIA and S&P +2.1%, NASDAQ +2.6%), a modest Treasury sell-off and further weakness in the dollar. At this point, Wall Street analysts are competing to define the terms of the Fed’s next easing cycle with most now looking for at least two rate cuts this year, but nobody expecting a move later this month. And don’t forget the futures market, where traders are pricing in 60bps of rate cuts before the end of the year, so two cuts and a 40% probability of a third.

All of this is ongoing in the face of continuing bombastic trade rhetoric by both the US and China, and with President Trump seemingly quite comfortable with the current situation. While it appears that he views these as negotiating tactics, it seems clear that the strategy is risky and could potentially spiral into a much more deeply entrenched trade war. However, with that in mind, the one thing we all should have learned in the past two plus years is that forecasting the actions of this President is a mug’s game.

Instead, let’s try to consider potential outcomes for various actions that might be taken.

Scenario 1: status quo, meaning tariffs remain in place but don’t grow on either side and trade talks don’t restart. If the current frosty relationship continues, then markets will become that much more reliant on Fed largesse in order to maintain YTD gains, let alone rally. Global growth is slowing, as is growth in trade (the IMF just reduced forecasts for 2019 again!), and earnings data is going to suffer. In this case, the market will be pining for ‘appropriate action’ and counting on the Fed to cut rates to support the economy. While rate cuts will initially support equities, there will need to be more concrete fiscal action to extend any gains. Treasuries are likely to continue to see yields grind lower with 2.00% for the 10-year quite viable, and the dollar is likely to continue to suffer in this context as expectations for US rate cuts will move ahead of those for the rest of the world. Certainly, a 2% decline in the dollar is viable to begin with. However, remember that if the economic situation in the US requires monetary ease, you can be sure that the same will be true elsewhere in the world, and when that starts to become the base case, the dollar should bottom.

Scenario 2: happy days, meaning both President’s Xi and Trump meet at the G20, agree that any deal is better than no deal and instruct their respective teams to get back to it. There will be fudging on both sides so neither loses face domestically, but the threat of an all-out trade war dissipates quickly. Markets respond enthusiastically as earnings estimates get raised, and while things won’t revert to the 2016 trade situation, tariffs will be removed, and optimism returns. In this case, without any ‘need’ for Fed rate cuts, the dollar will likely soar, as once again, the US economic situation will be seen as the most robust in the world, and any latent Fed dovishness is likely to be removed. Treasury prices are sure to fall as risk as quickly embraced and 2.50%-2.75% 10-year Treasuries seems reasonable. After all, the 10-year was at 2.50% just one month ago.

Scenario 3: apocalypse, the trade war escalates as both Presidents decide the domestic political benefits outweigh the potential economic costs and everything traded between the two nations is subject to significant tariffs. Earnings estimates throughout the world tumble, confidence ebbs quickly and equity markets globally suffer. While this will trigger another bout of central bank easing globally, the impact on equity markets will be delayed with fear running rampant and risk rejected. Treasury yields will fall sharply; 1.50% anyone? The dollar, however, will outperform along with the yen, as haven currencies will be aggressively sought.

Obviously, there are many subtle gradations of what can occur, but I feel like these three descriptions offer a good baseline from which to work. For now, the status quo is our best bet, with the chance of happy days coming soon pretty low, although apocalypse is even more remote. Just don’t rule it out.

As to the markets, the dollar has largely stabilized this morning after falling about 1% earlier in the week. Eurozone Services PMI data printed ever so slightly higher than expected but is still pointing to sluggish growth. The ECB is anticipated to announce the terms of the newest round of TLTRO’s tomorrow, with consensus moving toward low rates (-0.4% for banks to borrow) but terms of just two years rather than the previous package’s terms of four years. Given the complete lack of inflationary pulse in the Eurozone and the ongoing manufacturing malaise, it is still very hard for me to get excited about the euro rallying on its own.

This morning brings ADP Employment data (exp 185K) as well as ISM Non-Manufacturing (55.5) and then the Fed’s Beige Book is released at 2:00. We hear from three more Fed speakers, Clarida, Bostic and Bowman, so it will be interesting to see if there is more emphasis on the willingness to respond to weak markets activity. One thing to note, the word patience has not been uttered by a single Fed member in a number of days. Perhaps that is the telling signal that a rate cut is coming sooner than they previously thought.

Good luck
Adf

 

Completely Dissolved

The last time the FOMC
Sat down to discuss policy
The trade talks were purring
While folks were concurring
A hard Brexit never could be

But since then the world has evolved
And good will completely dissolved
So what they discussed
They now must adjust
If problems are e’er to be solved

It wasn’t too long ago that the Fed was the single most important topic in markets. Everything they said or did had immediate ramifications on stocks, bonds and currencies. In some circles, the Fed, and their brethren central banks, were seen as omnipotent, able to maintain growth by simply willing it higher. A natural consequence of that narrative was that the FOMC Minutes especially, but generally those of all the major central banks, were always seen as crucial in helping to better understand the policy stance, as well as its potential future. But that time has passed, at least for now. Yesterday’s FOMC Minutes were, at best, the third most important story of the day mostly because they opened the window on views that are decidedly out of date. Way back then, three weeks ago, the backdrop was of a slowly resolving trade dispute between the US and China with a deal seeming imminent, growing confidence that a no-deal Brexit was out of the picture, and an equity market that was trading at all-time highs. My how quickly things can change!

To summarize, the Minutes expressed strong belief amongst most members that patience remained the proper stance for now, although a few were concerned about too low inflation becoming more ingrained in the public mind. And then there was a technical discussion of how to manage the balance sheet regarding the tenors of Treasury securities to hold going forward, whether they should be focused in the front end, or spread across the curve. However, no decisions were close to being made. It should be no surprise that the release had limited impact on markets.

The thing is, over the past few sessions we have heard an evolution in some FOMC members’ stance on things, specifically with Bullard and Evans discussing the possibility of cutting rates, although as of now, they are the only two. However, we have heard even some of the more hawkish members willing to imply that rate cuts could be appropriate if the ‘temporary’ lull in the growth and inflation data proves more long-lasting. As has been said elsewhere, while the bar for cutting rates is high, the bar for raising rates is much, much higher. The next move is almost certainly lower.

And what has caused this evolution in thought since the last FOMC meeting? Well, the obvious answers are, first, the sharp escalation in the trade war, with the US raising tariffs on $200B of Chinese imports from 10% to 25% as well as threatening to impose that level of tariffs on the other $325B of Chinese imports. And second, the fact that the Brexit story has spiraled out of control, with further cabinet resignations (today Andrea Leadsom, erstwhile leader of the Tories in the House of Commons quit the Cabinet) adding to pressure on PM May to resign and opening up the potential for a hardline Boris Johnson to become the next PM and simply pull the UK out of the EU with no deal.

In fact, while I have written consistently on both topics over the past several months, the Fed remained the top driver previously. But now, these events are clearly completely outside the control of monetary officials and markets are going to respond to them as they unfold. In other words, look for more volatility, not less going forward.

With that as a backdrop, it can be no surprise that risk is being jettisoned across the board this morning. Equity markets are down around the world (Shanghai -1.4%, Nikkei -0.6%, DAX -1.75%, FTSE -1.4%, DJIA futures -0.9%, Nasdaq futures -1.25%); Treasuries (2.35%) and Bunds (-0.11%) are both in demand with yields falling; and the dollar is back on top of the world, with the yen along for the ride. A quick survey of G10 currencies shows the euro -0.15% and back to its lowest level since May 2017, the pound -0.2% extending its losing streak to 13 consecutive down days, while Aussie and Canada are both lower by 0.25%.

In the emerging markets, despite the fact that the PBOC continues to fix the renminbi stronger than expected, and still below 6.90, the market will have none of it and CNY is lower by a further 0.2% this morning and back above 6.94. Despite higher oil prices RUB and MXN are both softer by 0.6% and 0.4% respectively. CE4 currencies are under pressure with HUF leading the way, -0.4%, but the rest down a solid 0.25%-0.3%. In other words, there is no place to hide.

The hardest thing for risk managers to deal with is that these events are completely unpredictable as they are now driven by emotions rather than logical economic considerations. As such, the next several months are likely to see a lot of sharp movement on each new headline until there is some resolution on one of these issues. Traders and investors will be quite relieved when that happens, alas I fear it will be mid-summer at the earliest before anything concrete is decided. Until then, rumors and stories will drive prices.

Turning to today’s session we see a bit of US data; Initial Claims (exp 215K) and New Home Sales (675K). Tuesday’s Existing Home Sales disappointed and represented the 14th consecutive month of year-on-year declines. Of more interest, we have four Fed speakers (Kaplan, Barkin, Bostic and Daly) at an event and given what I detect is the beginnings of a change in view, these words will be finely parsed. So, at this point the question is will the fear factor outweigh the possible beginning of a more dovish Fed narrative. Unless all four talk about the possibility of cutting rates as insurance, I think fear still reigns. That means the dollar’s recent climb has not ended.

Good luck
Adf

 

Mostly Mayhem

There once was a female PM
Whose task was the fallout, to stem,
From Brexit, alas
What then came to pass
Was discord and mostly mayhem

And so, because progress has lumbered
Theresa May’s days are now numbered
The market’s concern
Is Boris can’t learn
The problems with which he’s encumbered

In the battle for headline supremacy, at least in the FX market’s eyes, Brexit has once again topped the trade war today. The news from the UK is that PM May has now negotiated her own exit which will be shortly after the fourth vote on her much-despised Brexit bill in Parliament. The current timing is for the first week of June, although given how fluid everything seems to be there, as well as a politician’s preternatural attempts to retain power, it may take a little longer. However, there seems to be virtually no possibility that the legislation passes, and Theresa May’s tumultuous time as PM seems set to end shortly.

Of course, that begs the question, who’s next? And that is the market’s (along with the EU’s) great fear. It appears that erstwhile London Mayor, Boris Johnson, is a prime candidate to win the leadership election, and his views on Brexit remain very clear…get the UK out! In the lead up to the original March 31 deadline, you may recall I had been particularly skeptical of the growing sentiment at the time that a hard Brexit had been taken off the table. In the end, the law of the land is still for the UK to leave the EU, deal or no deal, now by October 31, 2019. It beggars belief that the EU will readily reopen negotiations with the UK, especially a PM Johnson, and so I think it is time to reassess the odds of the outcome. Here is one pundit’s view:

  May 16, 2019 May 17, 2019
Soft Brexit 50% 20%
Vote to Remain 30% 35%
Hard Brexit 20% 45%

Given this change in the landscape, it can be no surprise that the pound continues to fall. This morning sees the beleaguered currency lower by a further 0.3% taking the move this month to 3.2%. And the thing is, given the nature of this move, which has been very steady (lower in 9 of the past 10 sessions with the 10th unchanged), there is every reason to believe that this has further room to run. Very large single day moves tend to be reversed quickly, but this, my friends is what a market repricing future probability looks like. The most recent lows, near 1.25 in December look a likely target at this time.

Of course, the fact that the market seems more focused on Brexit than trade doesn’t mean the trade story has died. In fact, equity markets in Asia suffered, as have European ones, on the back of comments from the Chinese Commerce Ministry that no further talks are currently scheduled, and that the Chinese no longer believe the US is negotiating in good faith. As such, risk is clearly being reduced across the board this morning with not merely equity weakness, but haven strength. Treasury (2.37%) and Bund (-0.11%) yields continue to fall while the yen (+0.2%) rallies alongside the dollar.

In FX markets, the Chinese yuan has fallen again (-0.3%) and is now trading at 6.95, quite close to the supposed critical support (dollar resistance) level of 7.00. There continues to be a strong belief in the market, along with the analyst community, that the PBOC won’t allow the renminbi to weaken past that level. This stems from market activity in 2015, when the Chinese surprised everyone with a ‘mini-devaluation’ of 1.5% one evening in early August of that year. The ensuing rush for the exits by Chinese nationals trying to save their wealth cost the PBOC $1 trillion in FX reserves as they tried to moderate the renminbi’s decline. Finally, when it reached 6.98 in late December 2016, they changed the capital flow regulations and added significant verbal suasion to their message that they would not allow the currency to fall any further.

And for the most part, it worked for the next 15 months. However, clearly the situation has changed given the ongoing trade negotiations, and arguably given the deterioration in the relationship between the US and China. While the Chinese have pledged to avoid currency manipulation, it is not hard to argue that their current activities in maintaining yuan strength are just that, manipulation. Given the capital controls in place, meaning locals won’t be able to rush for the doors, it is entirely realistic to believe the PBOC could say something like, ‘we believe it is appropriate for the market to have a greater role in determining the value of the currency and are widening the band around the fix to accommodate those movements.’ A 5% band would certainly allow a much weaker renminbi while remaining within the broad context of their policy tools. In other words, I am not convinced that 7.00 is a magic line, perhaps more like a Maginot Line. If your hedging policy relies on 7.00 being sacrosanct, it is time to rethink your policy.

Overall, the dollar is firmer pretty much everywhere, with yesterday’s broad strength being modestly extended today. Yesterday’s US data was much better than expected as Housing starts grew 5.6% and Philly Fed printed at a higher than expected 16.6. Later this morning we see the last data of the week, Michigan Sentiment (exp 97.5). We also hear from two more Fed speakers, Clarida and Williams, although we have already heard from both of them earlier this week. Yesterday Governor Brainerd made an interesting series of comments regarding the Fed’s attempts to lift inflation, highlighting for the first time, that perhaps their models aren’t good descriptions of the economy any more. After a decade of inability to manage inflation risk, it’s about time they question something other than the market. While I am very happy to see them reflecting on their process, my fear is they will conclude that permanent easy money is the way of the future, a la Japan. If that is the direction in which the Fed is turning, it will have a grave impact on the FX markets, with the dollar likely to suffer the most as the US is, arguably, the furthest from that point right now. But that is a future concern, not one for today.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf