Mnuchin and Powell and Trump
Sat down to discuss how to pump
The ‘conomy higher
To meet Trump’s desire
The Democrats fall with a thump
While Trump later carped about rates
Chair Jay explained recent updates,
To Congress, he made
Cannot be portrayed
As leading to further debates
Arguably the biggest story yesterday was news of a meeting at the White House between President Trump, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and Fed Chair Powell. While this is hardly unprecedented, given the President’s penchant for complaining about everything Powell has done; notably not cutting interest rates fast enough, when the news was released the conspiracy theorists immediately expected a change of tune from the Fed. But thus far, at least, nothing has changed. The Fed released a statement that explained the Chairman essentially repeated the talking points he made to Congress last week, and that the Fed’s actions are entirely predicated on their economic views and expectations, and not on politics.
The first thing to take away from that Fed statement is; it is a blatant admission that the Fed simply follows the markets/economy rather than leads it. If you listen to Fed speakers or read the Minutes or FOMC statement, they try to imply they are ahead of the curve. They are never ahead of the curve, but instead are always reacting to things that have already occurred. After all, isn’t that what data dependence means? Data isn’t released before it is gathered; it is a backward looking indicator.
The other thing, which is a modest digression, is an important question for those of us who are active in financial markets on a daily basis: Does anybody really think that any of the G10 central banks are actually independent? Consider that in macroeconomic theory, coordinated monetary and fiscal policy is seen as the Holy Grail. And, by definition, if the central bank and administration of a nation are working together, where is the independence? Or why is it considered business as usual when Mario Draghi and Christine Lagarde exhort nations to increase their fiscal spending, when their stated role is monetary policy? My point is central banks long ago lost their independence, if they ever had it at all, and are simply another arm of the government. Their biggest problem is that they are in danger of the illusion that they are independent disintegrating, at which point their powers of verbal suasion may disintegrate as well.
But in the end, despite the wagging of tongues over this meeting, nothing happened and the market returned its focus to…the trade deal. Once again, hopes and fears regarding the elusive phase one deal are driving equity markets, and by extension most others. The latest information I’ve seen is that the Chinese categorically will not sign a deal that leaves tariffs in place, and have even come to believe that the ongoing politics in Washington may leave the President in a weakened state which will allow them to get a better deal. Meanwhile, the President has not agreed to remove tariffs yet, although apparently has considered the idea. Underlying the broad risk-on theme is the idea that both Presidents really need the deal for their own domestic reasons, and so a deal will be agreed. But as yet, nothing is done.
Adding to the trade discussion is the constant commentary by the economic punditry as well as supranational organizations like the IMF who unanimously agree that
Trump is a problem settling the US-China trade dispute would immediately lead to faster economic growth everywhere in the world. This morning we heard from new IMF Managing Director, Kristalina Georgieva, who said just that. Remember, the IMF has been reducing its estimates of global growth consistently for the past twelve months, and arguably they are still too high. But the one thing on which we can count is that the President is not going to be swayed by comments from the IMF.
So with that as our backdrop, a quick look at markets shows us that most equity markets continue to move higher (Hang Seng +1.5%, Shanghai +0.85%, DAX +0.95%, FTSE +1.1%) but not all (Nikkei -0.5%). This movement seems predicated on hope that the trade situation will improve, but boy, markets have been rallying on that same story for a few months now, and as yet, there has been no change. In fairness, in the UK, the Tory lead in the polls is growing which has started to filter into an idea that Brexit will happen and then businesses will be able to plan with more certainty going forward.
Interestingly, the bond market does not share the equity market’s collective belief that a trade deal will be done soon. This is evident by the fact that yields have actually been edging down rather than rising as would be expected in a full-scale risk-on environment. Finally, turning to the FX market, in the G10 space today, the biggest move is less than 0.2% with five currencies stronger and five weaker on the day. In other words, there is nothing of note there.
In the EMG space, there are some movers of note with CLP leading the way lower, -0.85%, as ongoing concerns over the fraught political situation make themselves felt in the FX market with investment flows softening. But away from that story, most of the bloc seems to be feeling the effects of the trade tensions, with far more losers, albeit small losers, than winners. On the positive front, ZAR has rallied 0.4% after Eskom, the troubled utility in South Africa, named a new CEO to try to turn things around.
On the data front this morning we see Housing Starts (exp 1320K) and Building Permits (1385K) and NY Fed President Williams speaks at 9:00. As to the data, housing has rarely been a big market driver in FX. And regarding Williams, we already know his views, as well as those of everybody else on the Fed. Nothing is going to change there. With all this in mind, as long as equity markets continue to embrace risk, the dollar (and yen and Swiss franc) are likely to continue to feel modest pressure. But I see no reason for a large move in the near term.