Cow’ring In Fear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck
Adf

A New Plan

While all eyes are turned toward Japan
Most central banks made a new plan
If there’s no trade truce
They’ll quickly reduce
Their base rates, stock markets, to fan

As the week comes to a close, the G20 Summit, and more importantly, tomorrow’s meeting between President’s Trump and Xi are the primary focus of investors and traders everywhere. While there is still great uncertainty associated with the meeting, at this point I would characterize the broad sentiment as an expectation that the two leaders will agree to resurrect the talks that were abruptly ended last month, with neither side imposing additional tariffs at this time. And quite frankly, that does seem like a pretty reasonable expectation. However, that is not nearly the same thing as assuming that a deal will be forthcoming soon. The negotiations remain fraught based on the simple fact that both nations view the world in very different ways, and what is SOP in one is seen as outside the bounds in the other. But in the meantime, I expect that markets will take the news that the situation did not deteriorate as a massive bullish signal, if only because the market has taken virtually everything that does not guaranty an apocalypse as a massive bullish signal.

At the same time, it has become abundantly clear that the major central banks have prepared for the worst and are all standing by to ease policy further in the event the talks fall apart. Of course, the major central banks have all been pretty clear lately that they are becoming increasingly comfortable with the idea that interest rates can remain much lower than historical levels without stoking inflation. In fact, there are still several central bankers, notably Kuroda-san and Signor Draghi, who feel they are fighting deflation. In fairness, the latest data, released just last night, highlights that runaway inflation is hardly a cause for concern as Japan clocked in at 1.1%, with core at 0.9% and the Eurozone reported inflation at a rip roaring 1.2%, with core at 1.1%. It has been data of this nature that stokes the imagination for further policy ease, despite the fact that both these central banks are already working with negative interest rates.

Now, it must be remembered that there are 18 other national leaders attending the meeting, and many of them have their own concerns over their current relationship with the US. For example, the president has threatened 25% tariffs on imported autos, a move which would have a significantly negative impact on both Germany (and by extension the EU) and Japan. For now, those tariffs are on hold, but it is also clear that because of the intensity of the US-China trade situation, talks about that issue with both the EU and Japan have been relegated to lower level officials. The concern there is that the original six-month delay could simply run out without a serious effort to address the issue. If that were to be the case, the negative consequences on both economies would be significant, however, it is far too soon to make any judgements on the outcome there.

And quite frankly, that is pretty much the entire story for the day. Equity markets remain mixed, with Asia in the red, although the losses were relatively modest at between 0.25% and 0.50%. Europe, meanwhile, has taken a more positive view of the outcome, with markets there rising between 0.2% and 0.5%, which has left US futures pointing to modest, 0.2%, gains at the opening. Bond prices are actually slightly lower this morning (yields higher) but remain within scant basis points of the lows seen recently. For example, Bunds are trading at -0.319%, just 1.5bps from its recent historic low while Treasuries this morning are trading at 2.017%, just 4bps from its recent multi-year lows. Perhaps the most remarkable news from the sovereign bond market was yesterday’s issuance by Austria of 100-year bonds with a coupon of just 1.20%! To my mind, that does not seem like a reasonable return for the period involved, but then, that may be very backwards thinking.

Consider that the acceptance of two policy changes that have been mooted lately, although are still quite controversial, would result in the Austrian issue as being seen as a virtual high-yield bond. Those are the abolition of cash and the acceptance of MMT as the new monetary policy framework. I can assure you that if when cash is abolished, interest rates will turn permanently negative, thus making a yield of 1.20% seem quite attractive, despite the century tenor. As to MMT, it could play out in one of two ways, either government bonds issued as perpetual 0.0% coupons, or the end of issuing debt completely, since the central banks would merely need to print the currency and pay it as directed. In this case too, 1.20% would seem awfully good.

Finally, let’s look at the FX markets this morning, where the dollar is modestly softer against most of its counterparts. But when I say modestly, I am not kidding. Against G10 currencies, the largest movement overnight was NZD’s 0.14% appreciation, with everything else + or – 0.1% or less. In other words, the FX markets are looking at the Trump-Xi meeting and waiting for the outcome before taking a view. Positions remain longer, rather than shorter, USD, but as I have written recently, that view is beginning to change on the back of the idea that the Fed has much further to ease than other central banks. While I agree that is a short-term prospect, I see the losses as limited to the 3%-5% range overall before stability is found.

Turning to the data picture, yesterday saw GDP print as expected at 3.1%. This morning we get Personal Income (exp 0.3%), Personal Spending (0.4%), Core PCE (1.6%). Chicago PMI (53.1) and Michigan Sentiment (98.0). However, barring an outlandish miss in anything, it seems unlikely there will be too much movement ahead of tomorrow’s Trump-Xi meeting. Look for a quiet one.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf

 

Fear and Greed

The two things most traders concede
That drive markets are fear and greed
So lately there’s fear
That trouble is near
But too, FOMO, bulls do still heed

Another day of waiting as the market sharpens its focus on the Trump-Xi meeting to take place on Saturday during the G20 meetings in Osaka, Japan. Yesterday saw extremely limited activity in equity markets in the US, albeit with a negative bias, and we have seen similar price action overnight. Data releases remain sparse (French Business Confidence fell to 102, but that was all there was), which means that investors and traders have time to become contemplative.

On that note, it is a truism that fear and greed are the two most powerful human emotions when discussing financial markets, and both have a history of forcing bad decisions. However, in the classic telling of the story, fear is when investors flee for safety (generally Treasuries, yen, the dollar and gold) while greed is apparent when equity markets rally, corporate credit spreads compress, and high yield bonds outperform everything. I guess we need to throw in EMG excitement as well.

But lately fear has become the descriptor of both bulls and bears, with bulls now driven by FOMO while bears have the old-fashioned sense of fear. The thing that has been remarkable about markets lately is that both types of fear are in full bloom! I challenge anyone to highlight another time when there was so much angst over the current situation while simultaneously there was so much willingness to add risk to portfolios. How can it be that both the safest and riskiest assets are in such demand?

While I am very interested in hearing opinions (please respond) I will offer my own view up front. Global monetary policy in the wake of the financial crisis in 2008-9 has completely altered both the macroeconomic framework as well as how financial markets respond to signals from the economy. The biggest change, in my view, has been the financialization of every major economy, especially the US, where corporate debt issuance has been utilized primarily for financial engineering (either share repurchases or M&A) with only a secondary concern over the development of new, productive assets. This has resulted in a much weaker growth impulse (weakening productivity) with the concurrent effect of having changed the coefficients on all the econometric models in use. It is the latter outcome that has led central banks to become completely incapable of enacting policies that achieve their stated goals. Their reaction functions are based on faulty equipment (models) and so will rarely, if ever, give the right answer. But they are so invested in the current process, the idea of changing it is too far outside the box to even be considered.

Anyway, on a quiet day, I would love to hear other views on the subject.

In the meantime, a look at the markets shows that nothing is going on. The dollar is slightly higher this morning, but then it was slightly lower yesterday. Equity markets are drifting aimlessly (Nikkei -0.5%, FTSE -0.1%, DAX flat, S&P futures -0.1%) as everyone holds their collective breath for Saturday’s Trump-Xi meeting, and haven assets continue to perform well (Treasuries -1bp, Bunds -1bp and within 1bp of historic lows). Well, it is not completely true that nothing is going on, there is one market that has been on fire: gold.

That ‘barbarous relic’ called gold
Has seen its demand rise threefold
To some it is clear
That risks are severe
Although stocks have yet to be sold

Gold ($1432, +1.0% and + 10% this year) has broken out to levels last seen in 2013, when it was on its way down from the historic run-up in the wake of the financial crisis. This is simply the latest evidence of the ongoing conundrum I highlighted above. But beyond this, it has been remarkably quiet. Later this morning we see Case-Shiller Home Price data (exp 2.6%) and New Home Sales (680K) and we hear from NY Fed President John Williams. Yesterday, Dallas Fed prez Kaplan explained that he was concerned over the current situation, but not yet ready to pull the trigger. However, my gut tells me he was one of the ‘dots’ in the plot calling for two cuts by the end of the year. We will see what Mr Williams has to say later.

There is no reason to think that we are going to break out of the doldrums today, or this week at all, as catalysts are few and far between. So look for another quiet day in all markets.

Good luck
Adf