Blue Wave at Last

Psephologists have now decided
The run-off election provided
A blue wave at last
So laws can be passed
Republicans view as misguided

The market responded by sellin’
The 10-year, with traders foretellin’
Inflation to come
As Powell stays mum
While financing Treasury’s Yellen

While the election results from Georgia are not yet final, the indications at this time are that the Democratic party won one of the seats with the second one still too close to call.  However, the market has already made its decision, that both seats flipped to the Democrats and that the Senate will now be split 50:50, which means that the Vice President will be able to cast the deciding vote.  The clear implication is that, while hardly a mandate, the Democrats will control both the executive and legislative branches and be able to implement a great deal of their agenda.  In other words, the blue wave high tide has finally crested.

The initial reaction to this news has been seen in the sell-off of the 10-year Treasury, where the yield has risen to 1.02% as I type, its first foray above 1.00% since March 19th, during the first days of the Covid-19 market panic.  The reflation trade is back in vogue, with expectations now that the new administration will be aggressively adding fiscal stimulus, thus increasing Treasury issuance significantly and ultimately steepening the yield curve as demand for long-dated Treasuries will not be able to keep pace with the new supply.  However, given the already record levels of debt outstanding, the government simply cannot afford for interest rates to rise too far, as if they do, interest payments will soak up an ever-increasing proportion of available revenues.  It is for this reason that I continue to believe the Fed will increase their current activity, and whether tacitly, by expanding QE and extending the maturity of purchases, or explicitly, by setting a yield target, implement Yield Curve Control (YCC).

At the same time, the Fed has made it abundantly clear that higher inflation is of no concern to the committee.  The latest proof comes from Chicago Fed President Charles Evans, who explained to us yesterday, “Frankly, if we got 3% inflation, that would not be so bad.  It is very difficult to imagine out of control inflation, even with the large debt that fiscal authorities have been running up.”   Perhaps, as a Regional Fed President, he simply lacks imagination.  After all, just yesterday, almost at the same time he was recounting his views, the ISM Prices Paid index printed at 77.6, well above expectations and at a level seen only twice, briefly, in the past decade.  There is a strong correlation between this index and PPI, so the idea that inflation pressures are building is hardly unimaginable.

Which brings us back to the prospects for the dollar, as well as other markets.  While yields have climbed today, the prospect of inflation rising more rapidly and real rates falling further into negative territory still informs my view that the dollar has further to decline.  This will become more obvious when the Fed steps in to prevent the rise in nominal yields, which I am confident will occur sooner rather than later.  Again, while I don’t anticipate a dollar collapse, as other central banks will fight to prevent such an outcome, further dollar weakness is in the cards.

Speaking of other central banks fighting the dollar’s weakness, last night the PBOC started to do just that by establishing the CNY fix at a weaker renminbi rate than anticipated.  Since August 1st, CNY has appreciated by nearly 8% vs. the dollar, which for an economy that remains heavily reliant on exporting for GDP growth, is a growing problem.  As the PBOC makes no bones about directing the value of the currency, you can expect that they will be actively managing the renminbi’s value going forward in an effort to prevent too much further strength.  But, as long as both nominal and real yields remain positive in China, that will attract significant capital flows and continue to pressure the renminbi higher.

So, what has all this news done to other markets?  Well, most of Europe is ecstatic at the election outcome, at least that seems to be the case based on the rallies seen in equity markets there.  The FTSE 100 (+2.3%) is leading the way, but we are seeing strong gains in the DAX (+0.9%) and CAC (+0.8%) as well, despite the fact that the PMI Services data disappointed across the board.  The story in Asia was more mixed with the Nikkei (-0.4%) and Australia (-1.1%) underwhelmed by the outcome, although the Hang Seng (+0.2%) and Shanghai (+0.6%) both wound up in the green.  As to US futures, as I type, they are a mixed bag, with DOW futures higher by 0.2%, SPU’s lower by 0.4% while NASDAQ futures are down 2.0%.  The latter’s decline are a response to the election results as concerns grow that Big Tech will now be in the crosshairs of Congress for more regulation if not outright dismemberment.

While we have already discussed the Treasury market, European government bonds are mostly softer today as well, with yields rising as much as 4bps in the UK, although German bunds are unchanged on the session.

Another inflationary impulse comes from oil, where yesterday the Saudis surprised the market by unilaterally cutting production by 1 million barrels/day helping to take WTI above $50/bbl for the first time since late February.  If this rally continues, look for gasoline prices to creep higher, one of the key sentiment indicators regarding the perception of inflation.

And finally, the dollar remains broadly under pressure this morning, with NOK (+0.75%) the leading gainer in the G10 on the back of the oil rally, although both AUD (+0.6%) and NZD (+0.65%) are also having a good day as both commodity prices gain and they serve as a proxy for Asian growth.  Meanwhile, the euro (+0.35%) is trading at new highs for the move and back to levels not seen since April 2018.

Emerging market currencies are universally higher this morning, led by PLN (+0.85%), MXN (+0.8%) and HUF (+0.8%).  Those stories are easy to see, with oil helping the peso, while the CE4 currencies are tracking the euro’s strength.  Asian currencies, while all firmer, did not show nearly the enthusiasm, with gains between 0.1% and 0.2%, but of course, the election results were not fully known during their session.

On the data front, this morning brings ADP Employment (exp 75K) as well as Factory Orders (0.7%) and the PMI Services index (55.2).  Then, this afternoon, we see the FOMC Minutes of the December meeting, one where they disappointed many folks by not easing further. The first thing to note is that after yesterday’s ISM data, the ADP forecast increased from 50K.  Clearly, the manufacturing sector remains in better shape than expected.  At the same time, the Minutes ought to be interesting as perhaps we will learn more about attitudes regarding any prospects for what could change policy.  Of course, given the world was a different place then, and as Evans explained, inflation is of no concern, the real question from the Minutes will be what will the Fed do next to ease further.

As to the dollar, it is hard to see a short-term path in any direction other than lower, but I continue to expect the decline to be slow and orderly.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Post-Covid Themes

With Thanksgiving now in the past
And Christmas approaching quite fast
The only thing clear
Through end of the year
Is dollar shorts have been amassed

For many, conviction is strong
That currencies, they need be long
The idea, it seems
Is post-Covid themes
Mean risk averse views are now wrong

Having been away for a week, the most interesting thing this morning is the rising conviction in the view that the dollar has much further to decline in 2021.  Much is made of the fact that since its Covid induced highs in March, the dollar has fallen by more than 12% vs the Dollar Index (DXY) which is basically the euro.  Of course, that is nothing compared to the recoveries seen by the commodity currencies like NOK (+33.2%), AUD (+27.6%) and NZD (+23.6%) over the same period.  Yet when viewed on a year-to-date basis, the movement is far less impressive, with NOK actually unchanged on the year, and the leader, SEK, higher by 10.8%.  It is also worth remembering that the euro has rallied by a relatively modest 6.9% thus far in 2020, hardly worthy of the term dollar collapse.

In addition, as I have written before, but given the growing dollar bearish sentiment, I feel worth repeating, is that in the broad scheme of things, the dollar is essentially right in the middle of its long-term trading range.  For instance, from the day the euro came into existence, January 1, 1999, the average daily FX rate, according to Bloomberg, has been 1.1999, almost exactly where it currently trades.  It has ranged from a low of 0.8230 in October 2000 to a high of 1.6038 the summer before the GFC hit.  The point is EURUSD at 1.20 is hardly unusual, neither can it be considered weak nor strong.

Unpacking the rationale, as best I understand it, for the dollar’s imminent decline, we see that a great deal of faith is put upon the idea of a continuing risk rally over the next months as the global economy recovers with the advent of the Covid vaccines that seem likely to be approved within weeks.  The sequence of events in mind is that the distribution of the vaccine will have the dual impact of dramatically reducing the Covid caseloads while simultaneously reinvigorating confidence in the population to resume pre-Covid activities like going out to restaurants, bars and the movies, as well as resuming their travel plans.  The ensuing burst of activity will result in a return to pre-Covid levels of economic activity and all will be right with the world.  (PS  pre-Covid economic activity was a desultory 1.5% GDP growth with low inflation that caused the central bank community to maintain ultra-low interest rates for a decade!)

Equity markets, which are seemingly already priced for this utopian existence, will continue to rally based on the never-ending stream of central bank liquidity…or is it based on the massive growth in earnings given the near certainty of higher taxes and higher interest rates in the future.  No, it can’t be the second view, as higher taxes and higher interest rates are traditionally equity negatives.  So perhaps, equity markets will continue to rally as the prospect of future growth will remain just close enough to seem real, but far enough away to discourage policymakers from changing the rules now.  Perhaps this is what is meant by the Goldilocks recovery.

Of course, while commodity markets have bought into the story hook, line and sinker, it must be recalled that they have been the greatest underperforming segment of markets for the past decade.  Since December 1, 2010, the Goldman Sachs Commodity Index (GSCI) has fallen 36.5%, while the S&P500 has rallied 191%.  My point is the fact that commodity markets are performing well with the prospects of incipient economic growth ought not be that surprising.

The fly in the ointment, however, is the bond market, where despite all the ink spilled regarding the reflation trade and the steepening of the US Treasury yield curve, 10-year Treasuries refuse to confirm the glowing views of the future. At least, while they may be agnostic on growth, there is certainly little concern over a rekindling of inflation, despite the earnest promises of every central banker in the world to stoke the fires and bring measured inflation back to their targets.  As I type this morning, 10-year Treasury yields are 0.85%, right in the middle of its range since the US election.  You remember that, the event that was to usher in the great reflation?

In the end, while sentiment has clearly been growing toward a stronger recovery next year, encouraging risk appetites in both G10 and, especially, EMG economies, as yet, the data has not matched expectations, and positioning remains based on hope rather than evidence.

Now a quick tour around today’s markets shows that the equity rally has paused, at the very least, with weakness in Asia (Nikkei -0.8%, Hang Seng -2.1%, Shanghai -0.5%) despite stronger than expected economic data from both Japan (IP +3.8%) and China (Mfg PMI 52.1, non-Mfg PMI 56.4).  European markets are also mostly in the red, although the DAX (+0.2%) is the exception to the rule.  However, the CAC (-0.4%) and FTSE 100 (-0.15%) have joined the rest of the continent lower despite positive comments regarding a Brexit deal being within reach this week.  US futures have a bit of gloom about themselves as well, with both DOW and SPX futures pointing to 0.5% declines at the open, although NASDAQ futures are little changed at this hour.

Surprisingly, despite the soft tone in the equity markets, European government bond yields are all edging higher, with Bunds (+1.6bps) pretty much defining the day’s activity as most other major markets are seeing similar moves, including Treasuries (+1.8 bps).  Commodity prices are under pressure with oil (-1.3%) and gold (-0.9%) both suffering although Bitcoin seems to be regaining its footing, rallying 2.3% this morning.

Finally, the dollar, is under a modicum of pressure this morning with G10 currencies mostly a bit firmer (NOK and SEK +0.4%) GBP (+0.3%), although AUD (-0.1%) seems to be getting nosebleeds as it approaches its highest level in two years.  Potentially, word that China has slapped more tariffs on Australian wines, as the acrimony between those two nations escalates, could be removing the rose-colored tint there.  Meanwhile, in the EMG bloc, there is a mix of activity, with some gainers (HUF +0.8%) and BRL (+0.65%), and some losers (ZAR -0.3%), KRW (-0.25%).  Broadly, the commodity focused currencies here are feeling a little pressure from the underperformance in oil and metals, while the CE4 are tracking the euro nicely.

It is an important data week, and we also hear from numerous central bankers.

Today Chicago PMI 59.0
Tuesday ISM Manufacturing 58.0
Construction Spending 0.8%
Wednesday ADP Employment 420K
Fed Beige Book
Thursday Initial Claims 765K
Continuing Claims 5.81M
ISM Services 57.6
Friday Nonfarm Payrolls 500K
Private Payrolls 608K
Manufacturing Payrolls 46K
Unemployment Rate 6.8%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.1% (4.2% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.8
Trade Balance -$64.8B
Factory Orders 0.8%

Source: Bloomberg

In addition, we have seven Fed speakers this week, including most importantly, Chairman Powell’s testimony to the Senate Banking Committee tomorrow and the House Finance Panel on Wednesday.  We also hear from Madame Lagarde twice this week, and with the euro hovering just below 1.20, be prepared for her to mention that a too-strong euro is counterproductive.  You may recall in early September, the last time the euro was at these levels, that both she and Philip Lane, ECB Chief Economist, were quickly on the tape talking down the single currency.  Although since that time CNY has rallied strongly (+4%) thus removing some of the pressure on the ECB, there is still no way they want to see the euro rally sharply from here.

But do not be surprised to see the market test those euro highs today or tomorrow, if only to see the ECB response and pain threshold.  Clearly, momentum is against the greenback lately, and today is no exception, but I do not buy the dramatic decline story, if only because no other central bank will sit idly by and allow it.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Boris Has Gotten His Way

The EU will change what they say
To get a deal with the UK
They’ll now make believe
(The Brits, to deceive)
That Boris has gotten his way

The other thing that’s worth your note
Is guesstimates of next month’s vote
Investors are betting
A Blue Wave is heading
Our way, so bond prices they smote

This morning brings a little more clarity on one issue, and a little more hope on another, with both of these discussions driving market prices.

The hope stems from comments by the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, who finally admitted that both sides will need to make compromises in order for a deal to be reached in time to prevent a hard Brexit.  While that may seem obvious to an outsider, we don’t have the benefit of the conceit that forms the EU negotiating stance. Interestingly, it seems the new ‘secret sauce’ for the EU is to make believe that Boris is getting his way in the negotiations for his home audience, while not actually ceding any ground.  Of course, what’s a bit odd about this tactic is their willingness, nay eagerness, to publicize the concept.  After all, this seems better left unsaid, to help perpetuate the story.  If the British people read about this, they may question the value of any concessions and demand more.  Of course, I am no politician, so would never presume to claim I understand the political machinations required to achieve a deal this complex with so many different constituencies to satisfy.

Nonetheless, today’s price action clearly demonstrates that, despite already crowded long GBP positions in the trading and investor community, there is further appetite for pounds on the assumption that a Brexit deal will give the currency an immediate boost.  As such, cable is leading the G10 higher versus the dollar with a 0.8% rally and taking the pound back to its highest level in more than a month.  what is even more surprising about the cable move is the fact that yet another BOE member, Gertjan Vlieghe, was on the tape discussing the need for further stimulus and the fact that negative rates are very much on the table.  You may recall yesterday when the RBA made the same comments, the Aussie dollar fell.  But today, those comments are insignificant compared to the renewed hope for a Brexit deal.  My final thought here is for hedgers to beware this movement.  The pound’s rally ahead of any deal implies that a ‘sell the news’ event is increasingly likely.  Regardless of the Brexit outcome, I believe the next leg in cable is lower.

On to the clarity, which has seen the US yield curve, and in fairness most major curves, steepen further with 10-year Treasuries now yielding 0.80% and 30-year Treasuries up to 1.61%.  According to pretty much everyone, the new narrative is as follows: the polls show not merely a Biden victory in the presidential election, but that the Democrats will be retaking the Senate as well.  This means that not only will there be a much larger pandemic stimulus response, but that spending will be much higher across the board, with much larger budget deficits, significantly more Treasury issuance and inflationary expectations increasing accordingly.  The outcome will be a much steeper yield curve, as the Fed is able to maintain control of the front end, between QE and forward guidance but will have much more difficulty controlling the back end of the curve.  In fact, I have consistently read that curve steepeners are now the most crowded trade out there.  Of course, the most common market reaction to an overcrowded trade is to go the other way, at least in the short run, but given the assumptions, the logic behind the trade seems sound.

Of course, the key is that the assumptions are accurate.  Any outcome other than a Blue Wave will arguably not result in the same type of government spending, Treasury issuance and subsequent inflationary outcomes.  So, while there does not appear to be a clear idea of what will happen to the dollar given potential election outcomes, there is certainly a strong view as to what will occur in the bond market.  We should know more in two weeks’ time.

Meanwhile, today is difficult to characterize in terms of risk appetite.  Equity markets, bond markets and FX markets seem to each be dancing to their own tune, rather than listening to the same music.  For instance, Asian equity markets were modestly positive in general (Nikkei +0.3%, Hang Seng +0.75%, Shanghai -0.1%) but European bourses are all in the red (DAX -0.65%, CAC -0.8%, FTSE 100 -1.05%).  US futures have managed to unwind earlier losses but are generally unchanged on the day.  Yesterday’s deadline, as set by Speaker Pelosi, apparently was as hard as Boris’s Brexit negotiating deadline of last Thursday.  But in the end, I would say there is more risk aversion than risk accumulation here.

The bond market, as discussed above, is under more pressure this morning, with today’s 1.7 basis point rise in yields taking the week’s movement to a 6.0 basis point gain since Monday morning.  Europe is seeing generally higher yields as well, although German bunds are little changed.  UK gilts have seen yields rise 2.5bps and Italy (+2.5bps) and Greece (+6.5bps) especially, are seeing movement.  But the point is, bonds selling off are more consistent with risk-on than risk-off.  So, as stocks and bonds are both selling off today, I wonder what people are buying!

As to the dollar, it is broadly lower, with the pound in the lead, but strong gains by NOK (+0.75%), NZD (+0.75%) and JPY (+0.6%).  One might assume that oil is rallying given the move in NOK, but that is not the case, as WTI is lower by 1.7% this morning.  Once again, there is no obvious catalyst for this movement as there have been neither data nor comments regarding the krone.  One thing to keep in mind is that NOK has been the worst performing G10 currency vs. the dollar this year, so unwinding of medium-term positions, especially if there are concerns over a dollar “collapse” is certainly realistic.  As to kiwi, it is possible that modestly higher bond yields there has encouraged some buying, but the movement appears to largely be an unwinding of yesterday’s sharp decline.  Finally, the yen’s strength is in keeping with equity market activity, but at odds with bonds.  Comments from BOJ member Sakurai indicated no rush to add additional monetary stimulus in response to the resurgence in Covid infections, so perhaps that is helping underpin the currency.

Interestingly, EMG currencies have seen less movement than their G10 counterparts, with the biggest gainer KRW (+0.7%) and the rest of the bloc generally rising in the 0.3% range.  Here, at least, there is a cogent explanation, as early export data showed a 5.9% rise in October compared to a 9.8% decline in September.  While the Y/Y data were still weak (-5.8%) that was more a function of the number of days in the period than actual performance.

On the data front, the only thing released in the US today is the Fed’s Beige Book at 2:00pm.  But, six more Fed speakers are on tap for the day, starting with Cleveland’s Loretta Mester at 10:00 this morning.  A broad summary of recent comments would indicate that virtually every FOMC member is willing to implement further monetary stimulus, but all are begging for a fiscal package to really help the economy.  Who knows, maybe today is the day that Mnuchin and Pelosi agree to one.

As the dollar has broken some key technical levels, there is room for a bit more of a decline.  But I wouldn’t be looking for a collapse.  Hedgers, take advantage of these levels.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Can’t Stop the Pain

While central banks worldwide compete
To broaden their own balance sheet
They also complain
They can’t stop the pain
Lest more money reaches Main Street

Fiscal policy is the topic du jour as not only are there numerous stories about the ongoing theatrics in Washington, but we continue to hear virtually every member of the Fed calling for more fiscal stimulus.  Starting from the top, where in a speech on Tuesday, Chairman Powell excoriated Congress for not acting more quickly, and on through a dozen more speeches this week, there is one universal view; the Fed has done everything in its power to support the economy but it is up to the government to add more money to the mix to make up for the impact of the government shutting down businesses.  And while this is not just a US phenomenon, we hear the same thing from the ECB, BOE, BOC and BOJ, it appears that the market is coming to believe that the US is going to be the nation that acts most aggressively on this front going forward.

There is a conundrum here, though, as this view is seen as justification for a weaker dollar.  And frankly, I am confused as to the logic behind that view.  It appears there is a growing belief, based on polling data, that President Trump will lose the election, and that there will be a Democratic sweep taking back the Senate.  With that outcome in mind, investors expect a huge fiscal stimulus will quickly be enacted, perhaps as much as $4 trillion right away.  Now, if this is indeed the case, and if fiscal stimulus is what is required to get the economy growing again, and if the US is going to be the country taking the biggest steps in that direction, wouldn’t it make sense that the dollar would be in demand?  After all, if US data improves relative to that in Europe or elsewhere, doesn’t it stand to reason that the dollar will benefit?

Adding to this conundrum is the fact that we are hearing particularly dovish signals from other central banks (in addition to their calls for more fiscal stimulus) with the Bank of Canada the latest to explain that negative interest rates could well be appropriate policy if the government doesn’t spend more money.  So now, NIRP has the potential to become policy in virtually every G10 nation except the US, where the Fed has been consistent and explicit in saying it is not appropriate.  So, I ask, if US rates remain positive across the curve, while other nations all turn negative, is that really a dollar bearish signal?  It doesn’t seem so to me, but then I’m just a salesman working from home.

And yet, dollar weakness is certainly today’s theme, with the greenback lower vs. every one of its major counterparts today.  For example, the euro is higher by 0.4% this morning despite the fact that production data from the three largest economies point to a renewed slowdown in activity.  French IP has fallen -6.2% since August of last year, rising a less than forecast 1.3% on a M/M basis.  Monday, we saw German IP data fall -0.2% in August, taking its Y/Y results to -9.6%.  hardly the stuff of bullishness.  And while it is true that Italy’s data was better than expected (+7.7% in August, though still -0.3% Y/Y), looking at that suite of outcomes does not inspire confidence in the Eurozone economy.  And recall, too, that the ECB Minutes released Wednesday were clear in their concern over a rising euro, implying they would not allow that to come to pass.  But here we are, with the euro back at 1.1800 this morning.  Go figure.

The pound, too, seems to be defying gravity as despite much worse than forecast monthly GDP data (2.1% vs. 4.6% expected) and IP data (0.3% M/M, -6.4% Y/Y), the pound, which has been a strong performer lately, is slightly higher this morning, up 0.1%.  Again, this data hardly inspires confidence in the future economic situation in the UK.

But as they say, you can’t fight city hall.  So, for whatever reason, the current narrative is that the dollar is due to fall further because the US is going to enact more stimulus.  There is, however, one market which seems to understand the ramifications of additional stimulus, the Treasury market.  10-year Treasury yields, which had found a home near 0.65% for a long time, look very much like they are heading higher.  While this morning, bonds have rallied slightly with the yield declining 1.5 bps, we are still at 0.77%, and it seems only a matter of time before we are trading through this level and beyond.  Because, remember, if the narrative is correct and there is a huge stimulus coming, that’s $4 trillion in new paper to be issued.  That cannot be a positive for bond prices.

The European government bond market is also having a good day, with yields declining between 2 and 3 basis points everywhere.  At least here, if the ECB is to be believed, the idea of additional QE driving bond yields lower makes sense, especially since we are not looking at the prospect of multiple trillions of euros of additional issuance.

Looking at those two markets, it is hard to come up with a risk framework for today, and the equity markets are not helping.  Asian markets overnight were generally slightly softer (Nikkei -0.1%, Hang Seng -0.3%) but we did see Shanghai rally nicely, +1.6%, after having been closed all week long.  That seems like it was catching up to the week’s price action.  Europe, on the other hand is mixed, with strength in some markets (CAC +0.35%, FTSE 100 +0.45%) and weakness in others (DAX 0.0%, Spain -0.6%, Italy -0.3%).  I find it interesting that the UK and France, the nations that released the weakest IP data are the best performers.  Strange things indeed.  US futures, though, are pointing higher, somewhere on the order of 0.4%-0.5%.

And as I mentioned, the dollar is weaker across the board.  The best performers in the G10 are NZD (+0.6%) and NOK (+0.5%), with the former looking more like a technical rebound after some weakness earlier this week, while the krone has benefitted from its CPI data.  Earlier this year, as NOK weakened, Norwegian CPI rose sharply, to well over 3.0%, but it appears that the krone’s recent strength (it has rallied back to levels seen before the pandemic related market fluctuations) is starting to have a positive impact on inflation.

EMG currencies are also entirely in the green this morning with CNY (+1.35%) the biggest gainer.  In fairness, this appears to be a catch-up move given China had been closed since last Thursday.  But even CNH, which traded throughout, has rallied 0.7% this morning, so clearly there is a lot of positivity regarding the renminbi.  This also seems to be politically driven, as the assumption is a President Biden, if he wins, will be far less antagonistic to China, thus reducing sanctions and tariffs and allowing the country to resume its previous activities. But the whole bloc is higher with the CE4 showing strength on the order of 0.5%-0.7% and MXN, another politically driven story, rising 0.5%.  The peso is also assumed to be a big beneficiary of an impending Biden victory as immigration restrictions are expected to be relaxed, thus helping the Mexican economy.

And that’s really it for the day.  There is no data to be released and only one Fed Speaker, Richmond’s Barkin, but based on what we have heard this week, we already know he is going to call for more fiscal stimulus and not much else.  Also, as Monday is the Columbus Day holiday, look for things to slow down right around lunch, so if you have things to get done, get them done early.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

Not So Amused

While Covid continues to spread
Chair Jay, for more stimulus pled
But President Trump
Said talks hit a bump
And ‘til the election they’re dead

The market was not so amused
With stock prices terribly bruised
So, as of today
Investors must weigh
The odds more Fed help is infused

Although nobody would characterize today as risk-on, the shock the market received yesterday afternoon does not seem to have had much follow through either.  Of course, I’m referring to President Trump’s tweet that all stimulus negotiations are off until after the election.  One need only look at the chart of the Dow Jones to know the exact timing of the comment, 2:48 yesterday afternoon.  The ensuing twenty minutes saw that index fall more than 2%, with similar moves in both the S&P 500 and the NASDAQ.  And this was hot on the heels of Chairman Powell pleading, once again, for more fiscal stimulus to help the economy and predicting dire consequences if none is forthcoming.

At this point, it is impossible to say how this scenario will play out largely because of the political calculations being made by both sides ahead of the presidential election next month.  On the one hand, it seems hard to believe that a sitting politician would refuse the opportunity to spend more money ahead of an election.  On the other hand, the particular politician in question is unlike any other seen in our lifetimes, and clearly walks to the beat of a different drummer.  The one thing I will say is that despite the forecasts of impending doom without further stimulus, the US data continues to show a recovering economy.  For instance, yesterday’s record trade deficit of -$67.2 billion was driven by an increase in imports, not something that typically occurs when the economy is slowing down.  One thing we have learned throughout the Covid crisis is that the econometric models used by virtually every central bank have proven themselves to be out of sync with the real economy.  As such, it is entirely possible that the central bank pleas for more stimulus are based on the idea that monetary policy has done all it can, and central bankers are terrified of being blamed for the economic problems extant.

Speaking of central bank activities and comments, the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street has been getting some press lately as the UK economy continues to deal with not merely Covid-19, but the impending exit from the EU.  Last month, the BOE mentioned they were investigating negative interest rates, but comments since then seem to highlight that there are but two of the nine members of the MPC who believe there is a place for NIRP.  That said, the Gilt market is pricing in negative interest rates from two to five years in maturity, so there is clearly a bigger community of believers.  While UK economic activity has also rebounded from the depths of the Q2 collapse, there is a huge concern that a no-deal Brexit will add another layer of difficulty to the situation there and require significantly more government action.  The BOE will almost certainly increase its QE, with a bump from the current £745 billion up to £1 trillion or more.  But, unlike the US, the UK does not have the advantage of issuing debt in the world’s reserve currency, and at some point, the cost of further fiscal stimulus may prove too steep.  As to the probability of a Brexit deal, it seems that much rides on French President Macron’s willingness to allow the French fishing fleet to sink shrink and allow the UK to manage their own territorial waters.

With this as the backdrop, a look at markets this morning shows a mixed bag on the risk front.  Asian equity markets saw the Nikkei (-0.05%) essentially unchanged although the Hang Seng (+1.1%) got along just fine.  Shanghai remains closed for holidays.  European bourses seem to be taking their cues from the Nikkei, as modest declines are the rule of the day.  The DAX (-0.35%) and the CAC (-0.2%) are both edging lower, and although the FTSE 100 is unchanged, the rest of the continent is following the German lead.  Interestingly, US futures are higher by between 0.3%-0.5%, not necessarily what one would expect.

Bond markets, once again, seem to be trading based on different market cues than either equities or FX, as this morning the 10-year Treasury yield has risen 4 basis points, and is trading back to the recent highs seen Monday.  One would be hard-pressed to characterize today as a risk-on session, where one might typically see investors sell bonds as they rotate into equities, so clearly there is something else afoot.  Yesterday’s 3-year Treasury auction seemed to be pretty well-received, so there is, as yet, no sign of fatigue in buying US debt.  There is much discussion here about the possibility of a contested election, yet I would have thought that is a risk scenario that would drive Treasury buying.  To my inexpert eyes, this appears to be driven by more inflation concerns.  Next week we see CPI again, and based on the recent trend, as well as personal experience, there has been no abatement in price pressures.  And unless the Fed starts buying the long end of the Treasury curve (something Cleveland’s Loretta Mester suggested yesterday), or announces yield curve control, there is ample room for the back end to sell off further with yields moving correspondingly higher, regardless of Fed activity.  And that would bring a whole set of new problems for the US.

Finally, one would have to characterize the dollar as on its back foot this morning.  While not universally lower, there are certainly more gainers than losers vs. the greenback.  In the G10 space, NOK (+0.5%) and SEK (+0.4%) are leading the way, which given oil’s 2.5% decline certainly seems odd for the Nocky.  As for the Stocky, there is no news nor data that would have encouraged buying, and so I attribute the movement to an extension of the currency’s recent modest strength which has seen the krona gain about 2% in the past two weeks.  Meanwhile, JPY (-0.4%) continues to sell off, much to the delight of Kuroda-san and new PM Suga.  Here, too, there is no news or data driving the story, but rather this feels like position adjustments.  It was only a few weeks ago where there was a great deal of excitement about the possibility of the yen breaking out and heading toward par.  That discussion has ended for now.

Emerging markets are generally better this morning as well, led by MXN (+0.85%) which is gaining despite oil’s decline and the landfall of Hurricane Delta, a category 3 storm.  If anything, comments from Banxico’s Governor De Leon, calling for more stimulus and explaining that the recovery will be uneven because of the lack of fiscal action, as well as the IMF castigating AMLO for underspending on stimulus, would have seemed to undermine the currency.  But apparently not.  Elsewhere, the gains are less impressive with HUF (+0.5%) and ZAR (+0.35%) the next best performers with the former getting a little love based on increased expectations for tighter monetary policy before year end, while ZAR continues to benefit, on days when fear is in the background, from its still very high real interest rates.

The only data of note today is the FOMC Minutes this afternoon, but are they really going to tell us more than we have heard recently from virtually the entire FOMC?  I don’t think so.  Instead, today will be a tale of the vagaries of the politics of stimulus as the market will await the next move to see if/when something will be agreed.  Just remember one thing; the Fed has already explained pretty much all the easing it is going to be implementing, but we have more to come from both the ECB and BOE.  That divergence ought to weigh on both the euro and the pound going forward.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

I’m Concerned

Said Madame Lagarde, ‘I’m concerned
That strength in the euro’s returned
If that is the case
We’ll simply debase
The currency many have earned

Christine Lagarde, in a wide-ranging interview last week, but just released this morning, indicated several things were at the top of her agenda.  First is the fact that the containment measures now reappearing throughout the continent, notably in France, Spain and Germany, will weaken the recovery that started to gather steam during the summer. This cannot be a surprise as the key reason for the economic devastation, to begin with, was the dramatic lockdowns seen throughout Europe, and truthfully around the world.  But her second key concern, one about which I have written numerous times in the past, is that the euro’s recent strength is damaging the ECB’s efforts to support a recovery.  The new euphemism from ECB members is they are “very attentive” to the exchange rate.  The implication seems to be that if the euro starts to head back to the levels seen in early September, when it touched 1.20, they might act.  Clearly, the preferred action will be more verbal intervention.  But after that, I expect to see an increase in the PEPP program followed by a potential cut in the deposit rate and lastly actual intervention.

To be fair, most economists are already anticipating the PEPP will be expanded in December, when the ECB next publishes its economic forecasts.  Currently, the program has allocated €1.35 trillion to purchase assets on an unencumbered basis.  Recall, one of the issues with the original QE program, the APP, was that it followed the capital key, meaning the ECB would only purchase government bonds in amounts corresponding with a given economy’s size in the region.  So German bunds were the largest holdings, as Germany has the largest economy.  The problem with this was that Italy and Spain were the two large nations that needed the most help, and the ECB could not overweight their purchases there.  Enter PEPP, which has no such restrictions, and the ECB is now funding more purchases of Italian government bonds than any other nation’s.  Of course, there are more Italian government bonds than any other nation in Europe, and in fact Italy is the fourth largest issuer worldwide, following only the US, Japan and China.

As to further interest rate cuts, the futures market is already pricing in a 0.10% cut next year, so in truth, for the ECB to have an impact, they would need to either surprise by cutting sooner, or cut by a larger amount.  While the former is possible, the concern is it would induce fear that the ECB knows something negative about the economy that the rest of the market does not and could well induce a sharp asset sell-off.  As to cutting by a larger amount, European financial institutions are already suffering mightily from NIRP, and some may not be able to withstand further downward pressure there.

What about actual intervention?  Well, that would clearly be the last resort.  The first concern is that intervention tends not to work unless it is a concerted effort by multiple central banks together (think of the Plaza Agreement in 1985), so its efficacy is in doubt, at least in the medium and long term.  But second, depending on who occupies the White House, ECB intervention could be seen as a major problem for the US inspiring some type of retaliation.

In the end, for all those dollar bears, it must be remembered that the Fed does not operate in a vacuum, and in the current global crisis, (almost) every country would like to see their currency weaken on a relative basis in order to both support their export industries as well as goose inflation readings.  As such, nobody should be surprised that other central banks will become explicit with respect to managing currency appreciation, otherwise known as dollar depreciation.

Keeping this in mind, a look at markets this morning shows a somewhat mixed picture.  Yesterday’s strong US equity performance, ostensibly on the back of President Trump’s release from the hospital, was enough to help Asian markets rally with strength in the Nikkei (+0.5%) and Hang Seng (+0.9%).  China remains closed until Friday.  European markets started the day a bit under the weather, as virtually all of them were lower earlier in the session, but in the past hour, have climbed back toward flat, with some (Spain’s IBEX +0.95%) even showing solid gains.  However, the DAX (+0.1%) and CAC (+0.3%) are not quite following along.  Perhaps Madame Lagarde’s comments have encouraged equity investors that the ECB is going to add further support.  As to US futures markets, only NASDAQ futures are showing any movement, and that is actually a -0.4% decline at this time.

The bond market, on the other hand, has been a bit more exciting recently, as yesterday saw 10-year Treasury yields trade to their highest level, 0.782%, since June.  While this morning’s price action has seen a modest decline in yields, activity lately speaks to a trend higher.  Two potential reasons are the ever increasing amount of US debt being issued and the diminishing appetite for bonds by investors other than the Fed; and the potential that the recent trend in inflation, which while still below the Fed’s targeted level, has investors concerned that there are much higher readings to come.  After all, core PCE has risen from 0.9% to 1.6% over the past five months.  With the Fed making it clear they will not even consider responding until that number is well above 2.0%, perhaps investors are beginning to become a bit less comfortable that the Fed has things under control.  Inflation, after all, has a history of being much more difficult to contain than generally expected.

Finally, looking at the dollar, it is the least interesting market this morning, at least in terms of price action.  In the G10, the biggest mover has ben AUD, which has declined 0.4%, as traders focus on the ongoing accommodation of the RBA as stated in their meeting last night.  But away from Aussie, the rest of the G10 is +/- 0.2% or less from yesterday’s closing levels, with nothing of note to discuss.  In the emerging markets. THB (+0.7%) was the big winner overnight as figures showed an uptick in foreign purchases of Thai bonds.  But away from that, again, the movement overnight was both two-way and modest at best.  Clearly, the FX market is biding its time for the next big thing.

On the data front, this morning brings the Trade Balance (exp -$66.2B) and JOLTS Job Openings (6.5M).  Yesterday’s ISM Services number was a bit better than expected at 57.8, indicating that the pace of growth in the US remains fairly solid.  In fact, the Atlanta Fed GDPNow forecast is up to 34.6% for Q3.  But arguably, Chairman Powell is today’s attraction as he speaks at 10:40 this morning.    I imagine he will once again explain how important it is for fiscal stimulus to complement everything they have done, but as data of late has been reasonably solid, I would not expect to hear anything new.  In the end, the dollar remains range-bound for now, but I expect that the bottom has been seen for quite a while into the future.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Casting a Pall

The Chairman explained to us all
Deflation is casting a pall
On future advances
While NIRP’s what enhances
Our prospects throughout the long haul

The bond market listened to Jay
And hammered the long end all day
The dollar was sold
While buyers of gold
Returned, with aplomb, to the fray

An announcement to begin the day; I will be taking my mandatory two-week leave starting on Monday, so the next poetry will be in your inbox on September 14th.

Ultimately, the market was completely correct to focus all their attention on Chairman Powell’s speech yesterday because he established a new set of ground rules as to how the Fed will behave going forward.  By now, most of you are aware that the Fed will be targeting average inflation over time, meaning that they are happy to accept periods of higher than 2.0% inflation in order to make up for the last eight years of lower than 2.0% inflation.

In Mr. Powell’s own words, “…our new statement indicates that we will seek to achieve inflation that averages 2 percent over time. Therefore, following periods when inflation has been running below 2 percent, appropriate monetary policy will likely aim to achieve inflation moderately above 2 percent for some time.”

You may have noticed that Powell adds no specificity to this new policy, with absolutely no definition of ‘some time’ nor what ‘moderately above’ means.  But there was more for us, which many may have missed because it was a) subtle, and b) not directly about inflation.

“In addition, our revised statement says that our policy decision will be informed by our “assessments of the shortfalls of employment from its maximum level” rather than by “deviations from its maximum level” as in our previous statement.”

This is the rationale for their new willingness to let inflation run hot, the fact that the benefits of full employment outweigh those of stable prices.  The lesson they learned from the aftermath of the GFC in 2008-9 was that declining unemployment did not lead to higher general inflation.  Of course, they, along with many mainstream economists, attribute that to the breakdown of the Phillips curve relationship.  But the Phillips curve was not about general inflation, rather it was about wage inflation.  Phillips noted the relationship between falling unemployment and rising wages in the UK for the century from 1861-1957.  In fact, Phillips never claimed there was a causality, that was done by Paul Samuelson later and Samuelson extended the idea from wage to general inflation.  Eventually Milton Friedman created a theoretical underpinning for the claim unemployment and general inflation were inversely related.

Arguably, the question must be asked whether the labor market situation in the UK a century ago was really a valid model for the current US economy.  As it turns out, the time of Downton Abbey may not be a viable analogy.  Who would’ve thought that?

Regardless, Powell made it clear that with this new framework, the Fed has more flexibility to address what they perceive as any problems in the economy, and they will use that flexibility as they see fit.  In the end, the market response was only to be expected.

Starting with the bond market, apparently, I wasn’t the only one who thought that owning a fixed income instrument yielding just 1.4% for 30 years when the Fed has explicitly stated they are going to seek to drive inflation above 2.0% for some time was a bad idea.  The Treasury curve steepened sharply yesterday with the 10-year falling one point (yield higher by 6.5bps) while the 30-year fell more than three points and the yield jumped by more than 10 basis points.  My sense is we will continue to see the back end of the Treasury curve sell off, arguably until the 30-year yields at least 2.0% and probably more.  This morning the steepening is continuing, albeit at a bit slower pace.

As to the dollar, it took a while for traders to figure out what they should do.  As soon as Powell started speaking, the euro jumped 0.75%, but about 5 minutes into the speech, it plummeted nearly 1.2% as traders were uncertain how to proceed.  In the end, the euro recouped its losses slowly during the rest of the day, and has risen smartly overnight, up 0.7% as I type.  In fact, this is a solid representation of the entire FX market.  Essentially, FX traders and investors have parsed the Chairman’s words and decided that US monetary policy is going to remain uber easy for as far in the future as they can imagine.  And if that is true, a weaker dollar is a natural response.  So, today’s broad-based dollar decline should be no surprise.  In fact, it makes no sense to try to explain specific currency movements as the dollar story is the clear driver.

However, that does not mean there is not another important story, this time in Japan.

Abe has ulcers
Who can blame him with Japan’s
Second wave rising?

PM Shinzo Abe has announced that he has ulcerative colitis and will be stepping down as PM after a record long run in the role.  Initially, there was a great deal of excitement about his Abe-nomics plan to reflate the Japanese economy, but essentially, the only thing it accomplished was a weakening of the yen from 85.00 to 105.00 during the past eight years.  Otherwise, inflation remains MIA and the economy remains highly regulated.  The market reaction to the announcement was to buy yen, and it is higher by 1.15% this morning, although much of that is in response to the Fed.  However, it does appear that one of the frontrunners for his replacement (former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba) has populist tendencies, which may result in risk aversion and a stronger yen.

As to the equity market, the Nikkei (-1.4%) did not appreciate the Abe news, but Shanghai (+1.6%) seemed to feel that a more dovish Fed was a net benefit, especially for all those Chinese companies with USD debt.  Europe has been a little less positive (DAX -0.3%, CAC -0.1%) as there is now a growing concern that the euro will have much further to run.  Remember, most Eurozone economies are far more reliant on exports than the US, and a strong euro will have definite repercussions across the continent.  My forecast is that Madame Lagarde will be announcing the ECB’s policy framework review in the near future, perhaps as soon as their September meeting, and there will be an extremely dovish tone.  As I have written before, the absolute last thing the ECB wants or needs is a strong euro.  If they perceive that the Fed has just insured further dollar weakness, they will respond in kind.

Turning to the data, we see a plethora of numbers this morning.  Personal Income (exp -0.2%), Personal Spending (1.6%) and Core PCE (1.2%) lead us off at 8:30.  Then later, we see Chicago PMI (52.6) and Michigan Sentiment (72.8).  The thing is, none of these matters for now.  In fact, arguably, the only number that matters going forward is Core PCE.  If it remains mired near its current levels, the dollar will continue to suffer as not only will there be no tightening, but it seems possible the Fed will look to do more to drive it higher.  On the other hand, if it starts to climb, until it is over 2.0%, the Fed will be standing pat.  And as we have seen, getting Core PCE above 2.0% is not something at which the Fed has had much success.  For now, the dollar is likely to follow its recent path and soften further.  At least until the ECB has its say!

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

Stocks Dare Not Wane

Can someone, to me, please explain
The reason that stocks dare not wane?
If this is to be
Then how come we see
Both silver and gold, new heights gain?

It seems like the narrative is becoming more difficult to explain these days. On the one hand, risk appetite appears to be gaining as evidenced by the ongoing rally in equity markets, the continued rebound in oil prices and the dollar’s steady decline. The rationale continues to be one where hope springs eternal for the elusive Covid vaccine and that fiscal stimulus will continue to be pumped into the global economy until said vaccine arrives driving a V-shaped recovery. Meanwhile, paying for that fiscal stimulus will be global central banks, who are printing money as quickly as possible in order to mop up all the newly issued bonds. (I would wager that the ECB will purchase at least 50% of the new EU bonds when they are finally issued.)

The potential flaw in this theory is the price behavior of haven assets, notably gold, silver and Treasuries, all of which have continued to rally right alongside risk assets. Now, it is certainly possible that the continuous flood of new money into the global economy has simply resulted in all assets rising in price, including the haven assets, but it would be a mistake to ignore the signals those haven assets are flashing. For instance, 10-year Treasury yields have fallen back below 0.60% today for the first time since establishing their historic low at 0.569% in mid-April. Historically, the message of low 10-year yields has been slow growth ahead. It seems to me that doesn’t jive very well with the V-shaped recovery story that appears to be driving equity prices. Of course, the issue here could easily be that the Fed’s purchases are simply distorting the market thus removing any signaling power from 10-year yields, but they have assured us repeatedly that is not the case. Rather, their purchases are designed to insure the opposite, that the market functions normally.

Turning to precious metals, both gold and silver have been on a tear of late, with silver really turning it on in July, rising 21%, while gold has seen steady buying and is higher by 4.3% so far this month. Granted, this could simply be part of the dollar weakness effect, where a declining dollar lifts the value of all commodities. But you cannot rule out the idea that this price movement is a signal of growing concerns over the value of all fiat currencies as central banks around the world work overtime to provide liquidity to markets.

From the perspective of the narrative, it is important to accept that this time it’s different, and that these haven asset signals are merely noise in the new world order. And maybe they are. Maybe the fact that central banks around the world have added nearly $20 trillion of liquidity to global markets without corresponding economic growth is of no real concern and will not result in consequences like rising inflation or growth in inequality. Unfortunately, the one thing that we have learned during this crisis is that central banks have a single playbook regardless of the situation…print more money. Like a man with a hammer, to whom every problem looks like a nail, central bankers see a problem and respond in one way only… turn on the presses. I certainly hope the Fed et al, know what they are doing, but the evidence is that their models are no longer reflective of reality, and that is the big problem. Any model is only as good as its data, but good data doesn’t make a bad model good, in fact it is more likely to give misinformation instead.

So, let us now turn to the market’s activities this morning to see if there is anything new under the sun. While equity markets around the world are under pressure, the losses are relatively small and arguably just a reflex response to what has been a strong run for the past several sessions. Government bonds continue to rally ever so slowly in both the US and Europe, but the truly interesting things are happening in the FX world.

To start, the euro has well and truly broken out of its range, easily taking out resistance at 1.1495 during its 0.7% climb yesterday. This morning, it has added to those gains, up another 0.4% and trading at levels last seen in October 2018. Momentum is on its side and as I mentioned yesterday, I see no real resistance until at least 1.17, meaning another 1.0%-2.0% is quite within reason. At this stage, there doesn’t need to be a narrative, just the acceptance that the current trend is strong. But yesterday saw the entire G10 space rally, led by AUD (+1.6%) and NOK (+1.3%) with the former benefitting from a serious short squeeze while the latter had oil to thank for its gains. But even the yen (+0.45% yesterday) showed real strength, despite no concern about risk.

But the real story was in the EMG space, where virtually the entire bloc was firmer, although none so impressively as BRL, which rocketed 3.1% during the day. It seems that a combination of general positivity from the EU’s announced deal and the specifics of the introduction of the long-awaited new tax reform by the Bolsonaro administration were enough to get the juices flowing. Technically, it appears that barring any significant negative news, this could continue until USDBRL tests 5.00, or even the 4.85 lows seen in mid-June.

But the entire EMG bloc was on fire, with the CE4 far outperforming the euro (CZK +1.95%, HUF +1.90%, PLN +1.6%) but also strength elsewhere in LATAM (CLP +1.75%, COP +0.75%). In fact, APAC currencies were the laggards, although most of them did rise modestly. This morning’s price action has been a bit more muted, although we have seen IDR (+0.6%) halt what has been an impressive weakening trend. It seems that a local company is planning to move into Covid vaccine trials next month which has encouraged optimists to believe the second wave of infections there may be addressed soon.

Arguably, the one truly interesting thing today is the weakness in CNY (-0.2%) which seems to be a response to the story that the US has closed the Chinese consulate in Houston. The Chinese are now threatening to close the US consulate in Wuhan (who would want to work in that office anyway?) with the real concern that the ongoing cold war between the two nations shows no signs of abating. In fact, if you want a rationale for owning haven assets, this situation offers plenty of scope.

Turning to the data today, we get our first from the US in the form of Existing Home Sales (exp 4.75M) which would represent a 21% gain from last month. Of course, the level remains far below the pre-Covid situation where 5.5M was the norm for more than 5 years. The Fed remains in its quiet period as the market will eventually turn their attention to next Wednesday’s meeting, but for now, the market doesn’t need any further impetus. The story is the dollar is falling and risk is to be acquired. While the latter idea might be a little bit of a concern, the former, a weaker dollar, seems a fait accompli for now.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

 

Cash Is Undoubtedly King!

Historically bonds were the thing
To own in a market downswing
But lately it seems
Those days were just dreams
Now cash is undoubtedly king!

While this note is focused on the FX markets, where once again the dollar is top dog, I think a quick discussion of government bonds is in order to help try to make some sense of the overall market situation.

Clearly, the lead story in financial markets has been equities, which have proven that volatility is not dead. In fact, these constant +/- 5% days are exhausting for both investors and traders. And of course, most of us have at least some portion of our investment in the equity markets and are afraid to look at our accounts these days. But the behavior that has really been at odds with what had become the overriding narrative is the incredibly abrupt sell-off in Treasuries and other government bond markets during the past week. The idea that government bonds are a safe haven has been underpinning financial markets since long before the financial crisis in 2008. Yesterday I highlighted two of the issues that I think are driving recent price action; the prospect of staggeringly high new issuance to pay for all the proposed and enacted fiscal stimulus that is coming; and the fact that when yields reach a low enough point, the idea that holding bonds will guarantee the return of principal starts to diminish.

But I don’t think those explanations are sufficient to explain the speed and size of the movement that we have experienced since last Monday. Instead, movement like that can only be caused by massive position liquidation. Consider, 10-year Treasury yields rallied 36bps on Monday while 30-year yields closed 40bps higher after touching levels a further 15bps higher than that earlier in the session. So the real question is; who is liquidating their position(s)?

To answer that question we have to consider who holds large positions in Treasuries. The largest holder is likely the Fed, but obviously, they are not sellers. China and Japan come next on the list of holders, and while Japan would never be selling, there continue to be rumors that China has wanted to do that. I have never been a believer that China would sell their holdings for two reasons; first that they couldn’t get rid of them all at once, so a large sale would devalue their remaining holdings; and second because they would still have USD in their account and need to find something to do with them. Now that rates are back to 0.0%, what would they do with the money? After all, that’s a really big mattress they would need. And given the fact that the price of gold has fallen sharply through all this, it would imply there is no big bid for gold either. This leads me to believe that the Chinese have not touched their Treasury portfolio.

After those central banks, the biggest holders are leveraged fund managers with Risk Parity strategies having been an extremely popular investment product for the past decade. The idea was that by holding a certain percentage of different asset classes (e.g. 60% stocks/40% bonds), one could target a specific risk/return ratio. But nothing is simple these days, and as bond yields continued to grind lower over time, hedge fund managers started levering up to buy more and more Treasuries to hold against a given portfolio of stocks. However, what appears to have happened in the past week is that many of those highly levered Treasury positions needed to be reduced given the dramatic decline in the equity portion of the portfolio. Thus, the only explanation that I can see to explain this type of unprecedented Treasury bond movement is a massive liquidation trade by the hedge fund community. My sense is that we will hear of a number of funds closing shop over the next month or so. As an aside, this reinforces the idea that we are still paying the price for the Fed’s actions in 2008-09 and the fact that they never returned market conditions to pre-crisis settings. In the end, once these positions are liquidated, we are likely to see bonds show a little more stability and perhaps, they will regain their haven status. But for now, they are as tough a place to be as stocks.

Now to today’s session. The equity euphoria felt after the US announcement of substantial stimulus coming, measured right now at $1.2 trillion, and very likely taking the shape of true helicopter money with checks cut to all Americans earning less than a given amount, has ended as quickly as it formed. Asian equities got killed (Nikkei -1.7%, Hang Seng -4.2%, Australia -6.4%) and European indices are also tumbling (DAX -5.5%, CAC -5.5%, FTSE100 -5.0%). US equity futures are limit down (-5.0%) at this point, so a lower opening seems likely.

In the FX world, as I mentioned, the dollar is top dog. Today’s worst performer is MXN, which has fallen a further 4% to yet another new low (dollar high) with USDMXN now trading near 24.00. Vacations there will be cheap when we can travel again! But RUB is lower by 3.6% as oil continues to slide, and ZAR is down 2.0% on the weakness in gold and all metals. APAC currencies were all weaker by between 0.2% and 0.6% except for PHP, which actually rallied 0.7% today after the government reopened the Philippine stock market. Yesterday, they had closed trading completely and the decision was not well received at all, so now they are all working remotely and that seemed to cheer the FX market as some funds flowed back into the country.

In the G10, the pound is the leading decliner, down 1.5% as I type and looking for all the world like it is going to test its historic 1985 lows of 1.06! Today was the day that Brexit negotiations were to begin with the EU, with plans for a large group of negotiators on both sides. Obviously, in the current situation, that is no longer viable and it seems inevitable that Boris is going to need to postpone the eventual exit. Of course, he will pay no political price for that given the circumstance. But the rest of the G10 is also sliding, and the slide has accelerated since NY walked in at 7:00. For instance, the euro had actually been a bit higher earlier this morning, but is now down 0.25%. But it is Aussie and Kiwi (-1.4% each) as well as SEK (-1.3%) and CAD (-0.8%) that are pacing the blocs decline. The only exception is the one we would expect, JPY which has edged 0.2% higher this morning. While dollar needs remain substantial worldwide, yen investors continue to liquidate internationally and bring home their money.

On the data front, we do see Housing Starts (exp 1500K) and Building Permits (1500K), but again, nobody really cares. The focus will remain on Fed and Administration policies and market responses to those announcements will continue to be the primary drivers going forward.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

 

Times of Trouble

In times of trouble
The yen continues to be
Mighty like an oak

Pop quiz! What percentage of the workforce is working at their primary site vs. home or an alternate site? Please respond with where you’re working and your guesstimates. Will publish results of this (completely unscientific) survey on Monday, March 16.

As markets around the world continue to melt down, investors everywhere are looking for a haven to retain capital. For the past 100 years, US Treasuries have been the number one destination in markets. Interestingly, the past two days saw Treasuries sell off aggressively. I think the move was initially based on the relief rally seen on Tuesday, but at this point, the fact that Treasury prices fell alongside yesterday’s stock rout can only be explained by the idea that institutions that need cash are selling the only liquid assets they have, and Treasuries remain quite liquid. And to be clear, 10-year yields are lower by 18bps this morning as that bout of selling seems to have passed and the haven demand has returned in spades.

But since the financial crisis, the second most powerful haven asset has been the Japanese yen. Despite the fact that the nation has basically been in an economic funk for two decades, it continues to run a significant current account surplus. As a consequence, Japanese external investment is huge and when fear is in the air, that money comes running back home. The evolution of the coronavirus spread can be seen in the yen’s movement as in the middle of February, when Japan itself was dealing with the growth in infections, the yen weakened to a point not seen in nearly a year. Since then, however, the yen has strengthened 7.5% (with a peak gain of 9.8% seen Monday) as flows have been decidedly one way. This morning the yen has appreciated 0.7% from yesterday’s close and quite frankly, until the pandemic starts to ebb, I see no reason for it to stop appreciating. Par will pose a short-term psychological support for the dollar, but if this goes on for another two months, 95 is in the cards. With that in mind, though, for all yen receivables hedgers, zero premium collars are looking awfully good here. Let’s talk, at the very least you should be apprised of the pricing.

Interestingly, the Swiss franc has had a somewhat less impressive performance despite its historic haven characteristics. While it has appreciated 4.5% in the same time frame, it has been having much more trouble during the latest equity market decline. And I think that is the reason why. Famously, the Swiss National Bank has 20% of its balance sheet invested in individual equities. This is a very different investment philosophy than virtually every other central bank. The genesis of this came about when the SNB was intervening on a daily basis while trying to cap the franc and ultimately needed a place to put the dollars and euros they were buying. I guess the view was stocks only go up, so let’s make some money too. Whatever the reason, as of December 31 the USD value of their equity portfolio was about $97.6 billion. I’m pretty confident that number is a lot lower today, and perhaps the idea about Swiss franc strength is being called into question. The franc is unchanged today and has been generally unimpressive for the past week.

Meanwhile, all eyes this morning are on Madame Lagarde and the ECB who will be announcing their latest policy initiatives shortly. While it is clearly expected they will do something, other than a 10bp cut in the deposit rate, to -0.60%, there is a great deal of uncertainty. Expectations range from expanding the TLTRO program with much more aggressive rates, as low as -2.00%, to a significant increase in QE to capping government bond yields. All of that would be remarkably dramatic and likely have a short-term positive impact on markets. But will it last? My sense is that until the Fed announces next week, and at this point I think they cut 100bps, markets will still be on edge. After all, the world continues to revolve around USD funding, and in times of crisis, foreign entities need access to USD liquidity. Look for more repo, more swap lines and maybe even a lending scheme although I don’t think the Fed can do something like that within their mandate.

Overall, the dollar is performing as the number two currency haven, after the yen, and has rallied sharply against commodity currencies in both the G10 and EMG spaces. For example, with oil down 5% this morning, NOK has fallen 3.6%, but both AUD and SEK are lower by 1.5% as well. In the emerging markets, Mexican peso continues to be the market’s whipping boy, falling a further 3.2% as I type, which takes its decline since the beginning of the month to 12.2%. meanwhile, the RUB is in similarly dire straits (-2.75% today, -11.5% in March) and we are seeing every single EMG currency lower vs. the dollar today. These are the nations that are desperate for USD liquidity and you can expect their currencies to continue to decline for the foreseeable future.

At this point, data is an afterthought, but it is still being released. Yesterday saw CPI rise a tick more than expected but the more interesting data point was Mortgage Applications, which jumped 55.4% as mortgage rates collapse alongside Treasury yields. This morning brings Initial Claims (exp 220K) and PPI (1.8%, 1.7% core) with far more interest in the former than the latter. Consider, given the enormous economic disruptions, it would be easy to see that number jump substantially, which would just be another signal for the Fed to act as aggressively as possible.

At this point, as the equity meltdown continues, the dollar should remain well supported vs. everything except the yen.

Good luck
Adf