It’s Over

“It’s over”, Navarro replied
When asked if the trade deal had died
The stock market’s dump
Forced President Trump
To tweet the deal’s still verified

What we learned last night is that the market is still highly focused on the trade situation between the US and China. Peter Navarro, the Director of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, was interviewed and when asked if, given all the issues that have been ongoing between the two countries, the trade deal was over, he replied, “it’s over, yes.” The market response was swift, with US equity futures plummeting nearly 2% in minutes, with similar price action seen in Tokyo and Sydney, before the president jumped on Twitter to explain that the deal was “fully intact.”

One possible lesson to be gleaned from this story is that the market has clearly moved on from the coronavirus, per se, and instead is now focusing on the ramifications of all the virus has already wrought. The latest forecasts from the OECD show trade volumes are expected to plummet by between 10% and 15% this year, although are expected to rebound sharply in 2021. The key is that infection counts and fatality rates are no longer market drivers. Instead, we are back to economic data points.

Arguably, this is a much better scenario for investors as these variables have been studied far more extensively with their impact on economic activity reasonably well understood. It is with this in mind that I would humbly suggest we have moved into a new phase of the Covid impact on the world; from fear, initially, to panicked government response, and now on to economic fallout. Its not that the economic impact was unimportant before, but it came as an afterthought to the human impact. Now, despite the seeming resurgence in infections in many spots around the world, at least from the global market’s perspective, we are back to trade data and economic stories.

This was also made evident by all the talk regarding today’s preliminary PMI data out of Europe, which showed French numbers above 50 and the Eurozone, as a whole, back to a 47.5 reading on the Composite index. However, this strikes me as a significant misunderstanding of what this data describes. Remember, the PMI question is, are things better, worse or the same as last month? Now, while April was the nadir of depression-like economic activity, last month represented the second worst set of numbers recorded amidst global shutdowns across many industries. It is not a great stretch to believe that this month is better than last. But this does not indicate in any manner that the economy is back to any semblance of normal. After all, if we were back to normal, would we all still be working from home and wearing masks everywhere? So yes, things are better than the worst readings from April and May, but as we will learn when the hard data arrives, the economic situation remains dire worldwide.

But while the economic numbers may be awful, that has not stopped investors traders Robinhooders from taking the bull by the horns and pouring more energy into driving stocks higher still. Of course, they are goaded on by the President, but they seem to have plenty of determination on their own. Here’s an interesting tidbit, the market cap of the three largest companies, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon now represents more than 20% of US GDP! To many, that seems a tad excessive, and will be pointed to, after prices correct, as one of the greatest excesses created in this market.

And today is no different, with the risk bit in their teeth, equity markets are once again trading higher across the board. Once the little trade hiccup had passed, buyers came out of the woodwork and we saw Asia (Nikkei +0.5%, Hang Seng +1.6%, Shanghai +0.2%) and Europe (DAX +2.7%, CAC +1.6%, FTSE 100 +1.2%) all steam higher. US futures are also pointing in that direction, currently up between 0.6% and 0.8%. Treasury yields are edging higher as haven assets continue to lose their allure, with 10-year Treasury yields up another basis point and 2bp rises seen throughout European markets. Interestingly, there is one haven that is performing well today, gold, which is up just 0.15% this morning, but has rallied more than 5% in the past two weeks and is back to levels not seen since 2012.

Of course, the gold explanation is likely to reside in the dollar, which in a more typical risk-on environment like we are currently experiencing, is sliding with gusto. Yesterday’s weakness has continued today with most G10 currencies firmer led by NOK (+0.9%) and SEK (+0.75%) on the back of oil’s ongoing rebound and general optimism about future growth. It should be no surprise that the yen has declined again, but its 0.1% fall is hardly earth shattering. Of more interest is the pound (-0.3%) which after an early surge on the back of the UK PMI data (Mfg 50.1), has given it all back and then some as talk of the UK economy faring worse than either the US or Europe is making the rounds.

In the EMG bloc, the dollar’s weakness is broad-based with MXN and KRW (+0.6% each) leading the way but INR an PLN (+0.5% each) close behind. As can be seen, there is no one geographic area either leading or lagging which is simply indicative of the fact that this is a dollar story, not a currency one.

On the data front in the US, while we also get the PMI data, it has never been seen as quite as important as the ISM data due next week. However, expectations are for a 50.0 reading in the Manufacturing and 48.0 in the Services indices. We also see New Home Sales (exp 640K) which follow yesterday’s disastrous Existing Home Sales data (3.91M, exp 4.09M and the worst print since 2010 right after the GFC.) We hear from another Fed speaker today, James Bullard the dove, but I have to admit that Chairman Powell has everybody on the FOMC singing from the same hymnal, so don’t expect any surprises there.

Instead, today is very clearly risk-on implying that the dollar ought to continue to trade a bit lower. My hypothesis about the dollar leading stocks last week has clearly come a cropper, and we are, instead, back to the way things were. Risk on means a weaker dollar and vice versa.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Further Debates

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.

Good luck
Adf

 

Dying To See

Said Trump, it’s not me it’s the Fed
Preventing us moving ahead
While China and Xi
Are dying to see
A deal where all tariffs are dead

It should be no surprise that President Trump was at the center of the action yesterday, that is the place he most covets. In a speech at the Economic Club of New York, he discussed pretty much what we all expected; the economy is doing great (low unemployment, low inflation and solid growth); the Fed is holding the economy back from doing even better (give us negative rates like Europe and Japan, we deserve it) and the Chinese are dying to do a deal but the US is not going to cave in and remove tariffs without ironclad assurances that the Chinese will stop their bad behavior. After all, this has been the essence of his economically focused comments for the past year. Why would they change now? But a funny thing happened yesterday, the market did not embrace all this is good news, and we started to see a little bit of risk aversion seeping into equity prices and filter down to the bond and currency markets.

For example, although the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed yesterday just 0.3% from the all-time high set last Thursday, there has been no follow-through in markets elsewhere in the world, and, in fact, US futures are pointing lower. Now arguably, this is not entirely a result of Trump’s comments, after all there are plenty of problems elsewhere in the world. But global markets have proven to be quite vulnerable to the perception of bad news on the US-China trade negotiations front, and the fact that there is no deal clearly set to be signed is weighing on investors’ collective minds. So last night, we saw Asian markets suffer (Nikkei -0.85%, Hang Seng -1.8%, KOSPI -0.85%, Shanghai -0.35%) and this morning European markets are also under pressure (DAX -0.75%, CAC -0.45%, FTSE -0.55%, Spain’s IBEX -1.65%, Italy’s MIB -1.3%). In other words, things look pretty bad worldwide, at least from a risk perspective.

Now some of this is idiosyncratic, like Hong Kong, where the protests are becoming more violent and more entrenched and have demonstrably had a negative impact on the local economy. Of even more concern is the growing possibility that China decides to intervene directly to quell the situation, something that would likely have significant negative consequences for global markets. Too, Germany is sliding into recession (we will get confirmation with tomorrow’s Q3 GDP release) and so the engine of Europe is slowing growth throughout the EU, and the Eurozone in particular. And we cannot forget Spain, where the fourth election in four years did nothing to bring people together, and where the Socialist Party is desperately trying to cobble together a coalition to get back in power, but cannot find enough partners, even though they have begun to climb down from initial comments about certain other parties, namely Podemos, and consider them. The point is, President Trump is not the only reason that investors have become a bit skeptical about the future.

In global bond markets, we are also seeing risk aversion manifest itself, notably this morning with 10-year Treasury yields falling more than 6bps, and other havens like Bunds (-4bps) and Gilts (-5bps) following suit. There has been a great deal of ink spilled over the recent bond market price action with two factions completely at odds. There continue to be a large number of pundits and investors who see the long-term trend of interest rates still heading lower and see the recent pullback in bond prices as a great opportunity to add to their long bond positions. Similarly, there is a growing contingent who believe that we have seen the lows in yields, that inflation is beginning to percolate higher and that 10-year yields above 3.00% are going to be the reality over the course of the next year. This tension is evident when one looks at the price action where since early September, we have seen a 40bp yield rally followed by a 35bp decline in the span of five weeks. Since then, we have recouped all the losses, and then some, although we continue to see weeks where there are 15bp movements, something that is historically quite unusual. Remember, bonds have historically been a dull trading vehicle, with very limited price activity and interest generated solely for their interest-bearing qualities. These days, they are more volatile than stocks! And today, there is significant demand, indicating risk aversion is high.

Finally, the dollar continues to benefit against most of its counterparts in both the G10 and EMG blocs, at least since I last wrote on Friday. In fact, there are four G10 currencies that have performed well since then, each with a very valid reason. First, given risk aversion, it should be no surprise that both the yen and Swiss franc have strengthened in this period. Looking further, the pound got a major fillip yesterday when Nigel Farage said that his Brexit party would not contest any of the 317 seats the Tories held going into the election, thus seeming to give a boost to Boris Johnson’s electoral plans, and therefore a boost toward the end of the Brexit saga with a deal in hand. Finally, last night the RBNZ surprised almost the entire market by leaving rates on hold at 1.0%, rather than cutting 25bps as had been widely expected. The reaction was immediate with kiwi jumping 1.0% and yields in New Zealand rallying between 10 and 15 bps across the curve.

Turning to the Emerging markets, the big mover has been, of course, the Chilean peso, the erstwhile star of LATAM which has fallen more than 5.0% since Friday in the wake of the government’s decision to change the constitution in an effort to address the ongoing social unrest. But this has dragged the rest of the currencies in the region down as well, with Colombia (-2%) and Mexico (-1.7%) also feeling the effects of this action. The removal of Peruvian president, Evo Morales, has further undermined the concept of democracy in the region, and investors are turning tail pretty quickly. Meanwhile, APAC currencies have also broadly suffered, with India’s rupee the worst performer in the bunch, down 1.1% since Friday, as concerns about slowing growth there are combining with higher than expected inflation to form a terrible mix. But most of the region is under pressure due to the ongoing growth and trade concerns, with KRW (-0.9%) and PHP (-0.7%) also feeling strains on the trade story. The story is no different in EEMEA, with the bulk of the bloc lower by between 0.5% and 0.85% during the timeframe in question.

Turning to this morning, we see our first important data of the week, CPI (exp 0.3%, 0.2% core) for the month and (1.7%, 2.4% core) on an annual basis. But perhaps more importantly Chairman Powell speaks to Congress today, and everybody is trying to figure out what it is he is going to say. Most pundits believe he is going to try to maintain the message from the FOMC meeting, and one that has been reinforced constantly by his minions on the committee, namely that the economy is in a good place, that rates are appropriately set and that they will respond if they deem it necessary. And really, what else can he say?

However, overall, risk remains on the back foot today, and unless Powell is suddenly very dovish, I expect that to remain the case. As such, look for the dollar to continue to edge higher in the short term, as well as the yen, the Swiss franc and Treasuries.

Good luck
Adf

 

Badly Maligned

The Chinese, now, have it in mind
That they have been badly maligned
So tariffs they hiked
Which markets disliked
Though they have not yet been enshrined

Then Powell explained pretty well
That interest rates hadn’t yet fell
As far as they might
But if we sit tight
Most things ought to turn out just swell

And after the markets had closed
The President quickly imposed
More tariffs to thwart
The Chinese report
While showing he’s just as hard-nosed

It is truly difficult to keep abreast of the pace of change in market information these days. Like so many, I yearn for the good old days when a surprising data release would change trader views and result in a market move but comments and headlines typically had limited impact. These days, by far the most important newsfeed to watch is Twitter, given President Trump’s penchant for tweeting new policy initiatives. This weekend was a perfect example of just how uncertainty has grown in markets.

A quick recap of Friday shows that the Chinese decided to respond to numerous trade provocations and announced they would be raising tariffs further on $75 billion of US imports. Not surprisingly, risk assets responded negatively and we saw equity markets around the world decline while bonds, gold and the yen all rallied. Then we heard Chairman Powell’s long-awaited speech, where he explained that while the economy is in a pretty good place, given the ongoing global weakness and uncertainties engendered by the current trade war, the Fed stood ready to ease policy further. That was enough to encourage the risk-takers and we saw equity markets rebound and bonds give up most of their gains. But just as the market was getting set to close, the President tweeted that he would be raising tariffs further in response to the Chinese action, lamenting that he hadn’t acted more aggressively initially. This, of course, turned things back around and risk was quickly jettisoned into the close, resulting in equity markets ending down more than 2.4% in the US while bonds rebounded and the dollar fell. Whew!!

But that is all old news now as the weekend’s G7 meeting in Biarritz, France, resulted in more surprises all around. The first surprise was that the US and Japan have announced they have reached a trade deal “in principal” which should open Japanese markets to US agricultural imports and prevent the imposition of further tariffs on Japanese autos. Clearly a positive. But that was not enough to turn markets around and Asian sessions started off quite negatively, following the US close and understanding that the US-China trade war was getting hotter. However, an early morning Trump tweet announced that China had called the US and asked to get back to the negotiating table, something that was neither confirmed nor denied by the Chinese, but enough information to reverse markets again. So while Asian equity markets all suffered badly (Nikkei -2.2%, Hang Seng -1.9%) Europe went from down 1% to up 0.5% pretty much across the board (UK markets are closed for a holiday, the late-August banking holiday). We also saw US futures reverse course, from -1.4% to +0.5%, and Treasuries, which had traded to new low yields for the move at 1.44%, reversed course and are now back up (prices lower) to 1.52%. However, that is still lower than Friday’s close. As well, while early on there was a brief 1bp 2yr-10-yr inversion; that has now reversed to a 1bp positive slope.

And what about the dollar through all this? Well, G10 currencies are broadly softer vs. the dollar this morning, with losses ranging from -0.2% for EUR, GBP and CAD all the way to -0.8% for SEK. Even the yen is weaker, -0.45% on the day having reversed some early session (pre-tweet) gains to levels not seen since November 2016.

Of more interest, though, is the fact that CNH has fallen to new historic lows since its creation in August 2010, touching 7.1925 before bouncing slightly, and still down nearly 1% on the day. The Chinese are potentially playing with fire as stories of capital flight increase amid the renminbi’s recent declines. Obviously, 7.00 is no longer an issue, but the key unknown is at what level will money start to leak more fiercely, something nobody knows. I must admit, I did not expect to see this type of movement so quickly, but at this point, one cannot rule out even more aggressive weakness here. Certainly the options markets are telling us that is the case with implied vols rising sharply overnight (1mo +0.6 vol) and heading back toward levels seen after the 2015 ‘mini devaluation’. In fact, not surprisingly, implied volatility is higher pretty much across the board this morning as late summer illiquidity adds to the remarkable uncertainty in markets. There’s probably a bit more boost available in implied vols, at least until the next tweet changes the situation again.

Turning to this week’s calendar, there is a fair amount of data to absorb as follows:

Today Durable Goods 1.2%
  -ex transport 0.0%
Tuesday Case Shiller Home Prices 2.30%
  Consumer Confidence 129.0
Thursday Initial Claims 215K
  Q2 GDP 2.0% (2.1% prior)
Friday Personal Income 0.3%
  Personal Spending 0.5%
  PCE 0.2% (1.4% Y/Y)
  Core PCE 0.2% (1.6% Y/Y)
  Chicago PMI 47.7
  Michigan Sentiment 92.3

Clearly, all eyes will be on Friday’s PCE data as that is the number the Fed watches most carefully. Remember, we have seen two successive surprising upticks in CPI inflation, so a high surprise here could have consequences regarding the future path of interest rates. At least that’s the way things used to be, these days I’m not so sure. Wednesday we hear from two Fed speakers, Barkin and Daly, but it seems unlikely either of them will swerve far from Powell’s comments as neither is particularly hawkish. Speaking of data, we did see one piece this morning, Germany’s IFO Indices with all three pieces falling much further than expected, underscoring just how weak the economy is there. My money is on a stimulus package before Brexit, but also on a hard Brexit being averted.

Recapping, barring any further twitter activity, markets are set to open optimistically, but unless we hear confirmation from the Chinese that talks are, indeed, back on, I would not be surprised to see risk ebb lower as the day progresses. This means a stronger yen, and right now, a softer dollar, at least against the G10. Versus the EMG bloc, the dollar has further room to run.

Good luck
Adf

Absent Deceit

Two presidents are set to meet
From nations that fiercely compete
The issue at hand
Is how to expand
The trade twixt them absent deceit

For markets, this issue is key
And so far, today, what we see
Is traders complacent
A deal is now nascent
So buyers have been on a spree

The upcoming meeting between President’s Trump and Xi, due to be held on Saturday, has drawn the most focus amid financial markets in the past twenty-four hours. Yesterday we heard Treasury Secretary Mnuchin express confidence a deal could be completed and that “we were about 90% of the way there…” prior to the abrupt end of discussions last month. If you recall, the US claimed China reneged on their willingness to enshrine the deal details into their canon of law, which the US demanded to insure the deal was followed. However, shortly thereafter, President Trump, in a Fox News interview, talked about raising tariffs if necessary and seemed quite unconcerned over the talks falling apart. In fact, he turned his ire on India and Vietnam for adding to trade troubles. While Asian markets all rallied as the vibes seemed to be improving, a short time ago China announced they would have a set of conditions to present to Mr Trump in order to reach a deal. These include an end to the ban on Huawei products and purchases as well as an immediate end to all tariffs.

Given the importance of reaching a deal for both sides, my take is these comments and terms are simply being used to establish the baseline for the negotiations between the two men, and that some middle ground will be reached. However, markets (wisely I think) took the Chinese demands as a sign that a deal is far less certain than optimists believe, and European equities, as well as US futures, have sold off since their release. I have maintained throughout this process that a deal was always going to be extremely difficult to achieve given the fundamental problem that the Chinese have yet to admit to IP theft or forced technology transfers while the US sees those as critical issues. In addition, the question of enshrinement of terms into local law describes one of the fundamental differences between the two nations. After all, the US is a nation based on its laws, while China is a nation entirely in thrall to one man. Quite frankly, I think the odds of completing a deal are 50:50 at best, and if the luncheon between the two men does not result in the resumption of talks, be prepared for a pretty significant risk-off event.

In the meantime, the global economic picture continues to fade as data releases point to slowing growth everywhere. Yesterday’s Durable Goods numbers were much worse than expected at -1.3%, although that was largely due to the reduction in aircraft orders on the back of the ongoing travails of Boeing’s 737 Max jet. But even absent transport, the 0.3% increase, while better than expected, is hardly the stuff of a strong expansion. In fact, economists have begun adjusting their GDP forecasts lower due to the absence of manufacturing production. Yesterday I highlighted the sharp decline in all of the regional Fed manufacturing surveys, so the Durables data should be no real surprise. But surprise or not, it bodes ill for GDP growth in Q2 and Q3.

Of course, the US is not alone in seeing weaker data. For example, this morning the Eurozone published its monthly Confidence indices with Business Confidence falling to 0.17, the lowest level in five years, while Economic Sentiment fell to 103.3 (different type of scale), its lowest level in three years and continuing the steep trend lower since a recent peak in the autumn of last year. Economists have been watching the ongoing deterioration in Eurozone data and have adjusted their forecasts for the ECB’s future policy initiatives as follows: 10bp rate cut in September and December as well as a 50% probability of restarting QE. The latter is more difficult as that requires the ECB to change their self-imposed rules regarding ownership of government debt and the appearance of the ECB financing Eurozone governments directly. Naturally, it is the Germans who are most concerned over this issue, with lawsuits ongoing over the last series of QE. However, I think its quaint that politicians try to believe that central banks haven’t been directly funding governments for the past ten years!

So, what has all this done for the FX markets? Frankly, not much. The dollar is little changed across the board this morning, with nary a currency having moved even 0.20% in either direction. The issue in FX is that the competing problems (trade, weakening growth, central bank policy adjustments) are pulling traders in different directions with no clarity as to longer term trends. Lately, a common theme emerging has been that the dollar’s bull run is over, with a number of large speculators (read hedge funds) starting to establish short dollar positions against numerous currencies. This is based on the idea that the Fed will be forced to begin easing policy and that they have far more room to do so than any other central bank. As such, the dollar’s interest rate advantage will quickly disappear, and the dollar will fall accordingly. While I agree that will be a short-term impact, I remain unconvinced that the longer-term trend is turning. After all, there is scant evidence that things are getting better elsewhere in the world. Remember, the ongoing twin deficits in the US are hardly unique. Governments continue to spend far more than they receive in tax revenues and that is unlikely to stop anytime soon. Rather, ultimately, we are going to see more and more discussion on MMT, with the idea that printing money is without risk. And in a world of deflating currencies and halting growth, the US will still be the place where capital is best treated, thus drawing investment and dollar demand.

This morning brings some more data as follows: Initial Claims (exp 220K) and the third look at Q1 GDP (3.1%). Later, we also see our 6th regional Fed manufacturing index, this time from KC and while there is no official consensus view, given the trend we have seen, one has to believe it will fall sharply from last month’s reading of 2.0. There are no Fed speakers on the docket, so FX markets ought to take their cues from the equity and bond markets, which as the morning progressed, are starting to point to a bit of risk aversion.

Good luck
Adf

 

Not So Fast

While everyone thought it was nifty
The Fed was about to cut fifty
Said Jay, not so fast
We’ll not be harassed
A quarter’s enough of a gift-y

Once again, Chairman Powell had a significant impact on the markets when he explained that the Fed is fiercely independent, will not be bullied by the White House, and will only cut rates if they deem it necessary because of slowing growth or, more importantly, financial instability. Specifically, he said the Fed is concerned about and carefully watching for signs of “a loss of confidence or financial market reaction.” In this context, “financial market reaction” is a euphemism for falling stock prices. If ever there was a question about the existence of the Fed put, it was laid to rest yesterday. Cutting to the chase, Powell said that the Fed’s primary concern, at least right now, is the stock market. If it falls too far, too fast, we will cut rates as quickly as we can. Later in his speech, he gave a shout out to the fact that low inflation seems not to be a temporary phenomenon, but that was simply thinly veiled cover for the first part, a financial market reaction.

There are two things to note about these comments. First, the Fed, and really every major central bank, continues to believe they are in complete control of both their respective economies and the financial markets therein. And while it is absolutely true this has been the case since the GFC ended, at least with respect to the financial markets, it is also absolutely true that the law of diminishing returns is at work, meaning it takes much more effort and stimulus to get the same result as achieved ten years ago. At some point, probably in the not too distant future, markets are going to begin to decline and regardless of what those central banks say or do, will not be deterred from actually clearing. It will not be pretty. And second, the ongoing myth of central banks being proactive, rather than reactive, is so ingrained in the central bank zeitgeist that there is no possibility they will recognize the fact that all of their actions are, as the axiom has it, a day late and a dollar short.

But for now, they are still in command. Yesterday’s price action was informed by the fact that despite the weakest Consumer Confidence data in two years and weaker than expected New Home Sales, Powell did not affirm a 50bp cut was on its way in July. Since the market has been counting on that outcome, the result was a mild risk off session. Equity prices suffered in the US and continued to do so around the world last night and Treasuries settled below 2.00%. However, gold prices, which have been rocking lately, gave up early gains when Powell nixed the idea of a 50bp cut. And the dollar? Well, it remains mixed at best. It did rally slightly yesterday but continues to be broadly lower than before the FOMC meeting last week.

We also heard from two other Fed speakers yesterday, Bullard and Barkin, with mixed results. Bullard, the lone dissenter from the meeting made clear that he thought a 25bp reduction was all that was needed, a clear reference to Minneapolis Fed President Kashkari’s essay published on Friday calling for a 50bp cut. However, Thomas Barkin, from the Richmond Fed, sounded far less certain that the time was right for a rate cut. He sounds like he is one of the dots looking for no change this year.

And the thing is, that’s really all the market cares about right now, is what the Fed and its brethren central banks are planning. Data is a sidelight, used to embellish an idea if it suits, and ignored if it doesn’t. The trade story, of course, still matters, and given the increasingly hardened rhetoric from both sides, it appears the market is far less certain of a positive outcome. That portends the opportunity for a significant move on Monday after the Trump-Xi meeting. And based on the way things have played out for the past two years, my money is on a resumption of the dialog and some soothing words, as that will help underpin stocks in both NY and Shanghai, something both leaders clearly want. But until then, I expect a general lack of direction as investors make their bets on the outcome.

One little mentioned thing on the data front is that we have seen every regional Fed manufacturing survey thus far released show significantly more weakness than expected. Philly, Empire State, Chicago, Richmond and Dallas have all fallen sharply. That does not bode well for economic growth in either Q2 or Q3, which, in a twisted way, will play right into the President’s hands as the Fed will be forced to cut rates as a response. Strange times indeed.

This morning, two data points are released; Durable Goods (exp -0.1%, +0.1% ex transports) and the Goods Trade Balance (-$71.8B). Look for weakness in these numbers to help perk of the equity market as anticipation will grow that more rate cutting is in the offing. And look for the dollar to suffer for the same reason.

Good luck
Adf

Open and Shut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck
Adf

Markets Are Waiting

For right now most markets are waiting
To see if key risks are abating
Next week it’s the Fed
Then looking ahead
The G20 is captivating

The question is what we will learn
When Powell and friends next adjourn
The bond market’s sure
A cut has allure
To help them avoid a downturn

Markets this morning are pretty uninteresting as trader and investor focus turns to the two key upcoming events, next week’s FOMC meeting and the G20 meeting at the end of the month. At this point, it is fair to say that the market is pricing in renewed monetary ease throughout most of the world. While the Fed is in their quiet period, the last comments we heard were that they would act appropriately in the event economic growth weakened. Futures markets are pricing in a 50% chance of a cut next week, and a virtually 100% chance of a cut in July, with two more after that before the end of the year. While that seems aggressive to many economists, who don’t believe that the US economy is in danger of slowing too rapidly, the futures market’s track record is pretty good, and thus cannot be ignored.

But it’s not just the US where markets are pushing toward further rate cuts, we are seeing the same elsewhere. For example, last week Signor Draghi indicated that the ECB is ready to act if necessary, and if you recall, extended their rate guidance further into the future, assuring no rate changes until the middle of next year. Eurozone futures markets are pricing in a 10bp rate cut, to -0.50%, for next June. This morning we also heard from Banque de France President, and ECB Council member, Francois Villeroy that they have plenty of tools available to address slowing growth if necessary. A key pressure point in Europe is the 5year/5year inflation contract which is now pricing inflation at 1.18%, a record low, and far below the target of, “close to, but below, 2.0%”. In other words, inflation expectations seem to be declining in the Eurozone, something which has the ECB quite nervous.

Of course, adding to the picture was the news Monday night that the PBOC is loosening credit conditions further, targeting infrastructure spending. We also heard last week from PBOC Governor Yi Gang that the PBOC has plenty of tools available to fight slowing economic output. In fact, traveling around the world, it is easy to highlight dovishness at many central banks; Australia, Canada, Chile, India, Indonesia, New Zealand and Switzerland quickly come to mind as countries that have recently cut rates or discussed the possibility of doing so.

Once again, this plays to my constant discussion of the relative nature of the FX market. If every country is dovish, it becomes harder to discern which is the most hawkish dove. In the end, it generally winds up being a case of which nation has the highest interest rates, even if they are falling. As of now, the US continues to hold that position, and thus the dollar is likely to continue to be supported.

While the Fed meeting is obvious as to its importance, the G20 has now become the focal point of the ongoing trade situation with optimists looking for a meeting between Presidents Trump and Xi to help cool off the recent inflammation, but thus far, no word that Xi is ready to meet. There are many domestic political calculations that are part of this process and I have read arguments as to why Xi either will or won’t meet. Quite frankly, it is outside the scope of this note to make that call. However, what I can highlight is that news that a meeting is scheduled will be seen as a significant positive step by markets with an ensuing risk-on reaction, meaning stronger equities and a sell-off in the bond market, the dollar and the yen. Equally, any indication that no meeting will take place is likely to see a strong risk-off reaction with the opposite impacts.

Looking at the overnight data, there have been few releases with the most notable, arguably, Chinese in nature. Vehicle Sales in China fell 16.4%, their 11th consecutive monthly decline, which when combined with slowing monthly loan growth paints a picture of an economy that is clearly feeling some pain. The only other data point was Spanish Inflation, which printed at 0.8%, clearly demonstrating the lack of inflationary impulse in the Eurozone, even in one of the economies that is growing fastest. Neither of these data points indicates a change in the easing bias of central banks.

In the US this morning we see CPI data which is expected to print at 1.9% with the ex food& energy print at 2.1%. Yesterday’s PPI data was on the soft side, so there is some concern that we might see a lower print, especially given how rapidly oil prices have fallen of late. In the end, it is shaping up as another quiet day. Equity markets around the world have been slightly softer, but that is following a weeklong run of gains, and US futures are pointing to 0.3% declines at this point. Treasury yields are off their lowest point but still just 2.12% and well below overnight rates. And the dollar is modestly higher this morning, although I don’t see a currency that has moved more than 0.2%, indicating just how quiet things have been. Look for more of the same until at least next Wednesday’s FOMC announcement.

Good luck
Adf

Oy Vey!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck
Adf

Soon On the Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck
Adf