Inspired

It seems that inflation here’s not
Exploding, nor running too hot
That news has inspired
Stocks getting acquired
The dollar, meanwhile, went to pot

Yesterday’s CPI reading was surprisingly mild, with the headline rate rising 2.7% and the core just 2.2%. Both those readings were 0.1% below expectations and the market reaction was swift. Equity futures rallied immediately, with those gains maintained, and actually increased, throughout the session. At the same time the euro jumped 0.6%, as the CPI data moderated expectations of an ever more aggressive Fed. In other words, Goldilocks is still alive and well.

The employment situation in the US remains remarkably robust (Initial Claims were just 204K, the lowest level since December 1969!), while inflation seems to be under control. If you recall Chairman Powell’s comments from Jackson Hole, he remains data dependent, and clearly does not feel beholden to any particular economic model that defines where interest rates ought to be based on historical constructs. Rather, he seems willing to be patient if patience is required. Certainly the market understands that to be his view, as this data has helped flatten the trajectory of rate hikes further out the curve. While there is no doubt that the Fed will move later this month, and the probability of a December move remains high, next year suddenly looks much less certain, at least right now. Given this new information, it is no surprise that the dollar remains under modest pressure. And if the data starts to point to a slowdown in US growth and continued moderation in inflation, then the dollar ought to continue to suffer. But one data point does not make a trend, so let’s be careful about extrapolating this too far.

Beyond the CPI data, we also heard from Signor Draghi at the ECB press conference. He was remarkably consistent despite the reduction in GDP growth forecasts made by his staff economists. QE will wind down as advertised, with €30 billion of purchases this month and then €15 billion for the rest of the year, ending in December. And rates will remain where they are “through summer” which has widely been interpreted to mean until September 2019. Consider that one year from now, US interest rates are very likely to be at least 75bps higher than the current 2.00% and possibly as much as 150bps higher, which means that the spread will be at least 315bps in favor of the dollar. I understand that markets are forward looking, but boy, that is a very wide spread to ignore, and I expect that the dollar will continue to benefit accordingly.

Last night we also saw important data from China, where Fixed Asset Investment rose at its slowest pace (5.3%) since the data series began in 1996. This is somewhat surprising given Beijing’s recent instructions to regional governments to increase infrastructure investment as President Xi attempts to address a slowing economy. From the Chinese perspective, this is also an unwelcome outcome for the ongoing trade dispute with the US as it may give the appearance that China is more motivated for a deal and encourage President Trump to press harder. But for our purposes, the risk is that a slowing Chinese economy results in a weaker renminbi and there is clearly concern in Beijing that if USDCNY trades to 7.00, it could well encourage a more significant capital flight from the country, something that the PBOC wants to avoid at all costs. Now, last night it fell just 0.2% on the news and has actually recouped those losses since then, but that fear remains a driving force in Chinese policy.

The other stories that continue are in Turkey, where it should be no surprise that President Erdogan was extremely disappointed in the central bank for its surprisingly large rate hike yesterday morning. While the lira has held on to the bulk of its early gains, given Erdogan’s unpredictability, it is easy to contemplate further changes in the central bank governance that would be seen as quite negative for TRY. In Italy, the budget battles continue with no outcome yet, but this morning’s spin being somewhat less positive than yesterday’s, with concerns FinMin Tria will not be able to prevent a breech of the EU’s 3.0% budget deficit limit. And finally, BOE Governor Carney, in a closed door briefing with the PM and her cabinet, indicated that one possible scenario if there is no Brexit deal would be for crashing house prices but rising interest rates, a true double whammy. And on that subject, there has been no indication that a deal is any closer at this time. But all of these have been secondary to the CPI story, which seemed to change the tone of the markets.

This morning brings a raft of US data as follows: Retail Sales (exp 0.4%, 0.5% ex autos); IP (0.3%); Capacity Utilization (78.3%); Business Inventories (0.6%); and Michigan Consumer Sentiment (96.7). Arguably, the Retail Sales data will be the most closely watched as investors try to get a better understanding of just how the US economy is performing, but quite frankly, that number would need to be quite strong to alter the impressions from yesterday. Finally, we hear from Chicago Fed President Charles Evans, which could be interesting based on the CPI data’s change to impressions. In the end, though, I expect a relatively quiet session. It’s Friday and traders will want to reduce exposures.

Good luck and good weekend
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I’m Not Thrilled

Said President Trump, “I’m not thrilled”
With how Chairman Powell’s fulfilled
Both job and price mandates
By raising Fed Fund rates
‘Cause soon the Dow Jones could get killed

“I’m not thrilled. I don’t like all of this work that we’re putting into the economy and then I see rates going up. I am not happy about it. But at the same time I’m letting them do what they feel is best.” So said President Trump in an interview on CNBC yesterday afternoon. It should be no surprise that the FX market response was immediate, with the dollar reversing earlier gains.

While this is not the first time that a US president has tried to persuade the Federal Reserve to cut rates (they never want higher rates, I assure you!), it is the first time since George H.W. Bush pushed then Chairman Greenspan to reduce rates more quickly in 1992 (he didn’t). This is a situation fraught with serious consequences as the independence of a nation’s central bank is seen as one of the keys to a developed economy’s success. For instance, recall just several weeks ago when Turkey’s President Erdogan essentially took over making monetary policy there, and how the market has behaved since, with TRY already significantly weaker.

As long as the Fed remains on course to continue raising rates, and despite the Trump comments, Fed Funds futures showed no change in the probability for two more rate hikes this year, I see little reason to change my stance on the dollar’s future strength. However, the bigger problem is if the Fed, independently, decides that slowing the pace of rate hikes is justified by the data, it could still appear to be politically motivated, and so reduce whatever credibility the Fed still maintains. This will remain a background story, at the very least, for a while. So far, there is no indication that Chairman Powell is going to change his stance, which means that policy divergence remains the lay of the land.

In the meantime, the other big FX story comes from China. We discussed yuan weakness yesterday and in the overnight session, the PBOC fixed the onshore currency at its weakest point in more than a year, which in fairness is simply following the dollar’s overall strength, but then when USDCNY made new highs for the year above 6.83, a large Chinese state-owned bank was seen aggressively selling dollars. This tacit intervention helped to steady the market and worked to support the Shanghai Stock Exchange as well, which ultimately rose 2.0% on the day. It is, however, difficult to follow all the twists and turns in the US-China relationship these days, as literally minutes ago, President Trump raised the ante yet again, by saying that he is “ready to go” with regard to imposing tariffs on $500 billion of Chinese goods. That represents all Chinese exports to the US and is considerably larger than ever mentioned before.

Tariffs and protectionism have a very poor history when it comes to enhancing any country’s economic situation, but it is very possible that this continuous ratcheting of pressure may actually be effective at achieving policy changes in this situation as China has plenty of domestically created economic problems already. Recall, President Xi has been on the warpath about excess leverage and the PBOC had been tightening policy in order to squeeze that out of the system. However, growth in China has suffered accordingly, and the recent data indicates that it may be slowing even more. With that in mind, a full-scale trade war with the US would likely be disastrous for China. The last thing they can afford is to see reduced production numbers, as well as loss of access to critical component and technology imports. It is not impossible that Xi blinks first, or that the two presidents recognize that a face-saving deal is in both their interests. It may take a little while, but I have a sense that could well be the outcome. However, until then, look for USDCNY to continue to rally sharply, with a move to 7.00 and beyond very viable. This morning, despite the intervention overnight, it has subsequently weakened 0.4% and shows no signs of stopping.

Finally, one last story has returned from the past to haunt markets, Italy. There appeared to be a push by Five-Star leader, Luigi di Maio, to have the Finmin, Giovanni Tria, removed from office. You may recall that back in May, things got very dicey in Italy before the current government was finally formed as President Mattarella rejected the first proposed cabinet because of the Euroskeptic proposed for the FinMin post. Tria was the compromise selection designed to calm markets down, and it worked. So, if he were forced out, and it has been denied by the Finance Ministry that is the situation, it could lead us right back into a euro area crisis. This is especially true since the populist coalition of the League and Five-Start has gained further strength in the interim. While Italian bond markets suffered on the news, it was not sufficient to impact the euro much. However, we need to keep an eye on this story as it could well resurface in a more malevolent manner.

And that is really today’s situation. Overall the dollar is mildly weaker, but given its performance all week, that has more to do with profit taking on a Friday than other news. Clearly the Trump comments undermined the dollar to some extent, but until policies are seen changing, I think that will only be a temporary situation. With no data due this morning, and no speakers on the agenda, it has all the feelings of a quiet day upcoming. It is, after all, a Friday in July, so the summer doldrums seem appropriate.

Good luck and good weekend
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