Another False Dawn

Will Mario cut rates again?
And if so, by twenty or ten
Plus when will he start
To fill up his cart
With more bonds to piss off Wiedmann

Today is all about the ECB which will release its policy statement at 7:45 this morning. Then at 8:30, Signor Draghi will hold his press conference where reporters will attempt to dig deeper. At this stage, markets have priced in a 0.10% cut in the base rate, to -0.50%, with a 32% chance of a 0.20% cut. Just last week markets had priced in a 50% chance of that larger cut, so clearly the commentary from the hawks had an impact. At the same time, 80% of analysts surveyed are expecting a restart to QE with estimates of €30B – €35B per month as the jumping off point. This remains the case despite the vocal opposition by German, Dutch and French central bankers. Clearly, Draghi will have a lot of convincing to do in order to get his way. As I mentioned yesterday, bond prices have retreated driving yields higher which in the case of Bunds and other European paper implies a somewhat lower expectation of more QE.

It is also important to see what type of forward guidance we get as this has become one of the most powerful tools in central bank toolkits. Promises of a continuation in this policy until a specific inflation target is met would be quite powerful. Similarly, any indication that the ECB’s self-imposed limits on QE are under review would also be seen as quite bond bullish with both of these messages sure to undermine the euro. And perhaps that is the interim goal, weakening the euro such that the Eurozone can import a little inflation. Of course with Chinese prices declining and the huge trade uncertainty restricting business investment thus keeping a lid on growth, even a weak euro doesn’t seem that likely to drive inflation higher. At least not the time being. But central bankers remain convinced that they must do something, even if they know it will be ineffective. Finally, you can be sure there will be further pleas for fiscal stimulus to help address the current economic malaise. (Of course, Brussels will still seek to prevent the Italians from adding stimulus, of that you can be sure.)

The US-Chinese rapprochement
Has bolstered the Chinese yuan
Thus equities rose
Although I suppose
This could be another false dawn

It wouldn’t be a complete day without some new trade story and today’s is clearly on the positive side. President Trump delayed the imposition of the additional 5% tariffs on Chinese goods by two weeks, so they will now not go into effect until October 15. This gesture of good will is allegedly to allow the Chinese to celebrate their founding day without new clouds. The Chinese were appreciative and indicated they were now looking at imports of agricultural items, something they have purposely shunned in an attempt to pressure President Trump politically. Of course, given the swine fever that has decimated more than half the Chinese hog population, it seems likely that they are pretty keen to import US pork. At any rate, look for the next round of trade talks to occur during the first half of October while the détente is ongoing. The market response was immediately positive with the Nikkei and Shanghai indices both closing higher by 0.75%, although Eurozone equity markets are little changed, clearly waiting the ECB decision. Perhaps even more impressively, the renminbi has rallied 0.4% to its strongest level since August 23 and closing the gap on the charts that opened up when China last raised tariffs on US goods. At this point, market technicians may get involved as there is an island top in place on the charts. Don’t be surprised if USDCNY falls back to at least 7.00 before this move is over, and perhaps below if the trade situation seems to be easing.

Finally, the last of our big 3 stories, Brexit, has seen more political machinations and an uproar in the UK as the government was forced to release its planning document for a no-deal Brexit. Despite the fact that there were several potential scenarios, all the focus was on the worst-case which described massive potential shortages of food, fuel and medicine along with potential rioting. I have not seen the probability estimates for that scenario, and I’m pretty sure that no news source that favors Remain (all of them?) will publish one. However, despite the uproar in the papers, the pound is unchanged on the day. Remember, parliament is not in session, nor will it be until October 14. It will be fascinating to watch how this plays out. As to the pound, it remains a binary play; hard Brexit leads to 1.10 or below; any deal agreed leads to 1.30-1.35. Place your bets!

This morning we see the most important data of the week, CPI (exp 1.8%, 2.3% ex food & energy) as well as the weekly Initial Claims number (215K). If we see the recent trend continue, where CPI edges higher (was as low as 1.5% in February), that could well give pause to the FOMC. After all, cutting rates when inflation is rising and growth is stable at trend is much tougher to justify. That said, if the FOMC doesn’t cut I would expect a market bloodbath and a cacophony from the White House that would be unbearable, especially if Mario somehow manages to be extremely dovish.

Finally, a short time ago the Central Bank of Turkey cut rates more than expected to 16.5%, with new Central Bank head, Murat Cetinkaya, clearly accepting President Erdogan’s view that high rates cause inflation. At any rate, the lira has been the best performer of the day, rallying 1.1% as I type. Broadly, the dollar is softer ahead of the ECB, but that is simply position squaring before the decision. All the action will come after that.

Good luck
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Rates Will Be Hewn

Inflation remains far too low
In Europe, and so Mario
Has promised that soon
Their rates will be hewn
And, too, will their balance sheet grow

The ECB did not act yesterday, leaving all policy unchanged, but Signor Draghi was quite clear that a rate cut, at the very least, would be coming in September. He hinted at a restart of QE, although he indicated that not everyone was on board with that idea. And he pleaded with Eurozone governments to implement more fiscal stimulus.

That plea, however, is a perfect example of why the Eurozone is dysfunctional. While the ECB, one of the key Eurozone institutions, is virtually begging governments to spend more money, another one of those institutions, the European Commission, is prepared to sanction, and even fine, Italy because they want to spend more money! You can’t make this stuff up. As another example, consider that Germany is running a 1.7% fiscal surplus this year, yet claims it cannot afford to increase its defense spending.

It is this type of contradiction that exemplifies the problem with the Eurozone, and more specifically with the euro. Every nation is keen to accept the benefits of being a member, but none want to assume the responsibilities that come along with those benefits. In other words, they all want the free option. The euro is a political construct and always has been. Initially, countries were willing to cede their monetary sovereignty in order to receive the benefits of a more stable currency. But twenty years later, it is becoming clear that the requirements for stability are greater than initially expected. In a way, the ECB’s policy response of even more NIRP and QE, which should further serve to undermine the value of the single currency, is the only possible outcome. If you were looking for a reason to be long term bearish on the euro, this is the most powerful argument.

Speaking of the euro’s value, in the wake of the ECB statement yesterday morning, it fell 0.3% to 1.1100, its lowest level since mid-May 2017, however, Draghi’s unwillingness to commit to even more QE at the press conference disappointed traders and the euro recouped those early losses. This morning, it is basically right at the same level as before the statement, with traders now turning their focus to Wednesday’s FOMC meeting.

So, let’s consider that story. At this point it seems pretty clear that the Fed is going to cut rates by 25bps. Talk of 50bps has faded as the last several data points have proven much stronger than expected. Yesterday saw a blowout Durable Goods number (+2.0%, +1.2% ex transport) with both being well above expectations. This follows stronger than expected Retail Sales, CPI and payroll data this month, and even a rebound in some of the manufacturing surveys like Philly and Empire State. While the Housing Market remains on its heels, that doesn’t appear to be enough to entice a 50 bp move. In addition, we get our first look at Q2 GDP this morning (exp 1.8%) and the Fed’s favorite inflation data of PCE next week before the FOMC meeting concludes. Strength in any of this will simply cement that any cut will be limited to 25bps. Of course, there are several voting members, George and Rosengren top the list, who may well dissent on cutting rates, at least based on their last comments before the quiet period. Regardless, it seems a tall order for Chairman Powell to come across as excessively dovish given the data, and I would contend that the euro has further to fall as a result. In fact, I expect the dollar has further to climb across the board.

The other big story, of course, is the leadership change in the UK, where PM Boris had his first discussion with EU leaders regarding Brexit. Ostensibly, Boris demanded to discard the Irish backstop and the EU said absolutely not. At this point the EU is counting on a sufficient majority in the UK Parliament to prevent a no-deal Brexit, but there are still three months to go. This game is going to continue for a while yet, but at some point, it is going to be a question of whether Ireland blinks as they have the most to lose. Their economy is the most closely tied to the UK, and given they are small in their own right, don’t have any real power outside the EU. My money is on the EU changing their stance come autumn. In the meantime, the pound is going to remain under pressure as the odds of a no-deal Brexit remain high. This morning it is lower by a further 0.2%, and I see no reason for this trend to end anytime soon.

In other news, Turkey slashed rates 425bps yesterday as the new central bank head, Murat Uysal, wasted no time in the chair responding to President Erdogan’s calls for lower rates. The market’s initial response was a 1.5% decline in the lira, but it was extremely short-lived. In fact, as I type, TRY is firmer by nearly 1.0% from its levels prior to the announcement. Despite the cut, interest rates there remain excessively high, and in a world desperately seeking yield, TRY assets are near the top of the list on both a nominal and real basis.

Beyond that, it is hard to get excited about too much heading into the weekend. While equity markets suffered yesterday after some weak earnings data, futures are pointing to a better opening this morning. Treasuries are virtually unchanged as are gold and oil. So all eyes will be on the GDP data, where strength should reflect in a stronger dollar, but probably weaker equities, as the chance for more than a 25bp cut dissipates.

Good luck
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Pure Satisfaction

This weekend the data released
From China showed growth had increased
The market’s reaction
Was pure satisfaction
With short sellers all getting fleeced

Remember all those concerns over slowing growth around the world as manufacturing data kept slipping to recession-like numbers? Just kidding! Everything in the world is just peachy. At least that seems to be the take from equity markets this morning after Chinese PMI data this weekend surprised one and all by showing a significant rebound. The ‘official’ Manufacturing PMI printed at 50.5, up from 49.2 in February and well above the consensus forecast of 49.5. More importantly, it was on the expansion side of the 50.0 boom/bust line. The non-manufacturing number printed at 54.8, also higher than February (54.3) and consensus expectations of 54.1. Then last night, the Caixin data was released and it, too, showed a much better reading at 50.8, up from 49.9 and above consensus expectations of 50.1. And that’s all it took to confirm the bullish case for equity markets with the Nikkei rising 1.4% and Shanghai up 2.6%. In fairness, we also heard soothing words from Chinese Vice-premier Liu He, China’s top trade negotiator, that he was optimistic a deal would soon be reached, perhaps when he is back in Washington later this week.

What makes this so interesting is that European markets are all rallying as well, albeit not quite as robustly (DAX +1.1%, CAC +0.5%) despite weaker than forecast PMI data there. In fact, German Manufacturing PMI fell to 44.1, its lowest level since July 2012 during the European bond crisis, while the French also missed the mark at 49.7. However, it is becoming evident that we are fast approaching the bad news is good phenomenon we had seen several years ago. You may recall that this is the theory that weak economic data is actually good for equity prices because the central banks will ease policy further, thus increasing inequality and making the rich richer helping to support equity market valuations by adding further liquidity to the system.

It cannot be surprising that in this risk-on festival, the dollar has suffered overnight, falling between 0.2% and 0.5% vs. its G10 counterparts and by similar numbers vs. most of the EMG bloc. In fact, the two notable decliners beyond the dollar have been; TRY, currently down 0.6% (although that is well off its worst levels of -2.0%) after local elections over the weekend showed President Erdogan’s support in the major cities in Turkey has fallen substantially; and the yen, which given the risk-on mindset is behaving exactly as expected. In addition, 10-year Treasury yields have backed up to 2.44% and are no longer inverted vs. the 3-month T-bill, after spending all of last week in that situation.

What should we make of this situation? Is everything in the economy turning better and Q4 simply an aberration? Or is this simply the lash hurrah before the coming apocalypse?

On the positive side is the fact that last year’s efforts by central banks around the world to ‘normalize’ monetary policy is clearly over. ZIRP is the new normal, and quite frankly, it looks like the Fed is going to start heading back in that direction soon. Certainly, the market believes so. And as long as free money exists in the current low inflation environment, equity markets are going to be the main beneficiaries.

On the negative side, the number of red flags raised in the economy continues to increase, and it seems hard to believe that economic growth can continue unabated overall. For example, auto manufacturing has been declining rapidly and the housing market continues to slow sharply. These are two of the largest and most important industries in the US economy, and contraction in either will reduce growth. We are looking at contraction in both, despite interest rates still much closer to historic lows than highs. Remember, both these businesses are credit intensive as almost everyone borrows money to buy a car or a house. As an example of the concerns, auto loan delinquencies are at record levels currently with more than 6.5% overdue by more than 90 days.

Obviously, this is a small sample of the economy, albeit an important one with significant knock-on effects, but at the end of the day, investors continue to take the bullish view. Free money trumps all the potential travails of any particular industry.

It’s funny, because this attitude is what has been increasing the hype for the sexiest new economic views of MMT. After all, isn’t this what we have been seeing for the past decade? Fiscal stimulus paid for by central bank monetization of debt with no consequence. At least no consequences yet. Japan is leading the way in this process and despite a debt/GDP ratio of something like 240%, everybody sees the yen as a safe haven with negative 10-year yields. And arguably, last year’s tax and spending bill in the US alongside the end of policy tightening here, and almost certain future easing, is exactly the same story. Ironically, the Eurozone experiment is going to find itself on the wrong side of this process since member countries ceded their seignorage when they accepted the euro for their own currencies. And who knows, maybe MMT is a more correct description of the world and printing money without end has no negative consequences. I remain skeptical that 10 years of experimental monetary policy in the developed world is sufficient to overturn 300 years of economic history, but I am, by nature, a skeptic. At any rate, right now, the market is embracing the idea which means that equity markets ought to continue to gain, and government bond yields are not destined to rise alongside them.

As we start Q2, we are treated to a bunch of data as well as some more Fedspeak:

Today Retail Sales 0.3%
  -ex autos 0.4%
  ISM Manufacturing 54.5
  Business Inventories 0.5%
Tuesday Durable Goods -1.8%
  -ex transport 0.2%
Wednesday ADP Employment 170K
  ISM non-Manufacturing 58.0
Thursday Initial Claims 216K
Friday Nonfarm Payrolls 170K
  Private Payrolls 170K
  Manufacturing Payrolls 10K
  Unemployment Rate 3.8%
  Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.4% Y/Y)
  Average Weekly Hours 34.5

So, on top of Retail Sales and Payroll data, both seen as critical information, we hear from four more Fed speakers during the second half of the week. The thing is, we already know what the Fed’s view is, no rate hikes anytime soon, but it is too soon to consider rate cuts. That is where the data comes in. Any hint of weakness in the data especially Friday’s payroll report, and you can be sure the calls for a rate cut will increase.

Right now, the market feels like the Fed is going to be the initiator of the next set of rate cuts, and so I expect the dollar will be pressured by that view. But remember, if the Fed is cutting, you can be sure every other central bank will be going down that road shortly thereafter.

Good luck
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Hawks Are Now Doves

Two years ago Minister May
Put Article 50 in play
But when she unveiled
Her deal, it detailed
A course many felt went astray

Instead of the exit they sought
And for which the Brexiteers fought
Today the UK
Is forced, still, to play
By rules that the EU has wrought

So, it’s Brexit day and yet there is no final solution. Later today Parliament will vote on the legally binding aspects of the negotiated deal, but that still appears destined to fail. The problem remains that the Northern Irish DUP, which holds the ten votes that maintain the Tory majority in Parliament, has categorically refused to back the deal. The problem, as they see it, is that the deal splits them away from the UK and impinges too greatly on their sovereignty. If this vote fails (it is due to take place at 10:30 this morning) then the debate will shift to what to do next. The EU has afforded the UK another two weeks to come up with any decision at all, but even that seems increasingly doubtful. Earlier this morning, it appeared that the probability of a no-deal Brexit was increasing, at least according to the market as the pound traded down to 1.30 (-0.3%), but it has since rebounded a bit and is, in fact, higher by 0.35% on the session now. It appears the ebbs and flows of the debate in Parliament are moving the price right now, so be prepared for a sharper move in a few hours. It is devilishly difficult to predict political outcomes, thus at this point, all we can do is watch and wait.

Both patience and data dependence
Are hallmarks of Powell’s transcendence
The hawks are now doves
And everyone loves
The theory of Fed independence

This takes us to the other topic of note in the markets, the Fed. Yesterday, yet again, we heard from Fed speakers who have all said virtually the same thing. The current mantra is there is no reason for the Fed to act right now on rates, and that they will carefully analyze all the data, both from the US and the rest of the world, before making their next decision. They cannot tell us frequently enough how in 1998-9, when growth elsewhere in the world was suffering (the Asian crisis was unfolding), the Fed eased policy even though things were fine in the US, and that is what helped prevent a much worse outcome. (Of course, they never discuss how those extra low rates helped inflate the tech bubble which burst dramatically the following year, but that doesn’t really suit the narrative, does it?) At any rate, it is abundantly clear that the Fed is on hold for the rest of the year, and that the balance sheet program is going to taper off and end by the autumn. And there is no question that the Fed has remained independent throughout this process, remember that!

The last of the big three stories, trade talks with China, was back in the news as well as the US delegation was seen going “line by line” through the text with their Chinese counterparts to try to come to an agreement. It does appear that the Chinese are conceding some points, with a story this morning about how US cloud companies are going to be allowed access, without a partner, into China to compete with locals. The other story was about a change in Chinese law that ostensibly addresses IP theft. These are two key issues for the US and seem to indicate that there is a real possibility that an agreement will actually make changes in the relationship that could benefit the US in the long run. Certainly, equity markets see it that way as Chinese stocks rallied sharply, more than 3% and Europe is higher along with US futures.

Elsewhere, yesterday’s BRL collapse was largely reversed, although the Turkish lira continues to suffer ahead of the local elections this weekend. In the former, it appears that foreign investors are taking advantage of a weaker real and stock market to buy in at better levels as there is an underlying belief that pension reform will be passed. In the latter, it remains to be seen how President Erdogan’s allies fare this weekend, and there is no clarity as to how he will react if he loses some measure of power.

Yesterday saw the dollar perform well, overall, despite the GDP data coming in on the soft side (2.2% vs. 2.6% expected), but again, that is backward looking data. This morning brings PCE (exp 1.4%, core 1.9%) as well as Personal Income (0.3%) and Spending (0.3%). We also see Chicago PMI (61.0), New Home Sales (620K) and Michigan Sentiment (97.8) later on. There are also a few more Fed speakers, but we pretty much know what they are going to say, don’t we?

Overall, the dollar has performed well this week, although it is a touch softer this morning. My sense is that we could see a bit more weakness by the end of the day, simply on position adjustments. And of course, if somehow the UK makes a decision of some sort, that will help the pound rebound and add to pressure on the buck. Just don’t count on that last part!

Good luck and good weekend
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So Despised

Is anyone truly surprised
That Parliament, once authorized
To find a solution
Found no substitution
For May’s deal that they so despised?

One of the more confusing aspects of recent market activity was the rally in the pound when Parliament wrested control of the Brexit process from PM May. The idea that a group of 650 fractious politicians could possibly agree on a single idea, especially one so fraught with risks and complexities, was always absurd. And so, predictably, yesterday Parliament voted on seven different proposals, each designed to be a path forward, and none of them even came close to achieving a majority of votes. This included a vote to prevent a no-deal Brexit. In the meantime, PM May has now indicated she will resign regardless of the outcome, which, arguably, will only lead to more chaos as a leadership fight will now consume the Tories. In the meantime, there is still only one deal on the table, and it doesn’t appear to have the votes to become law. As such, while I understand that the idea of a hard Brexit is anathema to so many, it cannot be dismissed as a potential outcome. It should not be very surprising that the FX market is taking the idea a bit more seriously this morning, although only a bit, as the pound has fallen a further 0.4%, which makes the move a total of 1.0% lower in the past twenty-four hours.

One way to look at the pound’s value is as a probability weighted price of three potential outcomes; no deal, passing May’s deal and a long delay. Based on my views that spot would trade to 1.20, 1.38 or 1.40 depending on those outcomes, and assigning probabilities of 40%, 20% and 40% to those outcomes, spot is actually right where it belongs near 1.3160. But that leaves room for a lot of movement!

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the FX market, volatility is making a comeback. Between Turkey (-5.0%), Brazil (-3.0%) and Argentina (-3.0%), it seems that traders are beginning to awaken from their month’s long hiatus. Apparently, the monetary policy anesthesia that had been administered by central banks globally is wearing off. As it happens, each of these currencies is dealing with local specifics. For instance, upcoming elections in Turkey have President Erdogan on the defensive as his iron grip on power seems to be rusting and he tries to crack down on speculators in the lira. Meanwhile, recently elected Brazilian president Bolsonaro has seen his honeymoon end quite abruptly with his approval ratings collapsing and concerns over his ability to implement key policies seen as desirable by the markets, notably pension reform. Finally, Argentine president Macri remains under pressure as the slowing global growth picture severely restricts local economic activity although inflation continues to run away to unsustainable levels (4% per month!) and the peso, not surprisingly is suffering.

As to the G10, activity there has been less impressive although the dollar’s tone this morning is one of strength, not weakness. In fact, risk continues to be jettisoned by investors as can be seen by the continuing rally in government bonds (Treasury yields falling to 2.35%, Bund yields to -0.07%, JGB’s to -0.09%) while equity markets were weak in Asia and have gained no traction in Europe. Adding to the impression of risk-off has been the yen’s rally (0.2% overnight, 1.0% in the past week), a reliable indicator of market sentiment.

Turning to the data, yesterday saw the Trade Balance shrink dramatically, to -$51.1B, a much lower deficit than expected, and sufficient to positively impact Q1 GDP measurement by a few tenths of a percent. This morning we see the last reading on Q4 GDP (exp 1.8%) as well as Initial Claims (225K). Given the backward-looking nature of Q4 data, it seems unlikely today’s print will impact markets. One exception to this thought would be a much weaker than expected print, which may convince some investors the global slowdown is more advanced than previously thought with equities selling off accordingly. But a better number is likely to be ignored. We also hear from (count ‘em) six more Fed speakers today (Quarles, Clarida, Bowman, Williams, Bostic and Bullard), but given the consistency of recent comments by others it seems doubtful we will learn anything new. To recap, every FOMC member believes that waiting is the right thing to do now and that they should only respond when the data indicates there is a change, either rising inflation or a significant slowing in the economy. Although the market continues to price rate cuts before the end of the year, as yet, there is no indication that Fed members are close to believing that is necessary.

Ultimately, the same key stories are at the fore in markets. Brexit, as discussed above, slowing global growth and the monetary policy actions being taken to ameliorate that, and the US-China trade talks, which are resuming but have made no new progress. One of the remarkable features of markets lately has been the resilience of equity prices despite a constant drumbeat of bad economic news. Investors have truly placed an enormous amount of faith in central banks (specifically the Fed and ECB) to be able to come to the rescue again and again and again. Thus far, that faith has been rewarded, but keep in mind that the toolkit continues to dwindle, so that level of support is likely to diminish. In the end, I continue to see the dollar as a key beneficiary of the current policy mix, as well as the most likely ones for the near future.

Good luck
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Goldilocks Ain’t Dead Yet

The Chairman said, no need to fret
Our low unemployment’s no threat
To driving up prices
And so my advice is
Relax, Goldilocks ain’t dead yet

Chairman Powell’s message yesterday was that things were pretty much as good as anyone could possibly hope. The current situation of unemployment remaining below every estimate of NAIRU while inflation remains contained is a terrific outcome. Not only that, there are virtually no forecasts for inflation to rise meaningfully beyond the 2.0% target, despite the fact that historically, unemployment levels this low have always led to sharper rises in inflation. In essence, he nearly dislocated his shoulder while patting himself on the back.

But as things stand now, he is not incorrect. Measured inflationary pressures remain muted despite consistently strong employment data. Perhaps that will change on Friday, when the September employment report is released, but consensus forecasts call for the recent trend to be maintained. Last evening’s news that Amazon was raising its minimum wage to $15/hour will almost certainly have an impact at the margin given the size of its workforce (>575,000), but the impact will be muted unless other companies feel compelled to match them, and then raise prices to cover the cost. It will take some time for that process to play out, so I imagine we won’t really know the impact until December at the earliest. In the meantime, the Goldilocks economy of modest inflation and strong growth continues apace. And with it, the Fed’s trajectory of rate hikes remains on track. The impact on the dollar should also remain on track, with the US economy clearly still outpacing those of most others around the world, and with the Fed remaining in the vanguard of tightening policy, there is no good reason for the dollar to suffer, at least in the short run.

However, that does not mean it won’t fall periodically, and today is one of those days. After a weeklong rally, the dollar appears to be consolidating those gains. The euro has been one of today’s beneficiaries as news that the Italian government is backing off its threats of destroying EU budget rules has been seen as a great relief. You may recall yesterday’s euro weakness was driven by news that the Italians would present a budget that forecast a 2.4% deficit, well above the previously agreed 1.9% target. The new government needs to spend a lot of money to cut taxes and increase benefits simultaneously. But this morning, after feeling a great deal of pressure, it seems they have backed off those deficit forecasts for 2020 and 2021, reducing those and looking to receive approval. In addition, Claudio Borghi, the man who yesterday said Italy would be better off without the euro, backed away from those comments. The upshot is that despite continued weakening PMI data (this time services data printed modestly weaker than expected across most of the Eurozone) the euro managed to rally 0.35% early on. Although in the past few minutes, it has given up those gains and is now flat on the day.

Elsewhere the picture is mixed, with the pound edging lower as ongoing Brexit concerns continue to weigh on the currency. The Tory party conference has made no headway and time is slipping away for a deal. Both Aussie and Kiwi are softer this morning as traders continue to focus on the interest rate story. Both nations have essentially promised to maintain their current interest rate regimes for at least the next year and so as the Fed continues raising rates, that interest rate differential keeps moving in the USD’s favor. It is easy to see these two currencies continuing their decline going forward.

In the emerging markets, Turkish inflation data was released at a horrific 24.5% in September, much higher than even the most bearish forecast, and TRY has fallen another 1.2% on the back of the news. Away from that, the only other currency with a significant decline is INR, which has fallen 0.65% after a large non-bank lender, IL&FS, had its entire board and management team replaced by the government as it struggles to manage its >$12 billion of debt. But away from those two, there has been only modest movement seen in the currency space.

One of the interesting things that is ongoing right now is the fact that crude oil prices have been rallying alongside the dollar’s rebound. Historically, this is an inverse relationship and given the pressure that so many emerging market economies have felt from the rising dollar already, for those that are energy importers, this pain is now being doubled. If this process continues, look for even more anxiety in some sectors and further pressure on a series of EMG currencies, particularly EEMEA, where they are net oil importers.

Keeping all this in mind, it appears that today is shaping up to be a day of consolidation, where without some significant new news, the dollar will remain in its recent trading range as we all wait for Friday’s NFP data. Speaking of data, this morning brings ADP Employment (exp 185K) and ISM Non-Manufacturing (58.0), along with speeches by Fed members Lael Brainerd, Loretta Mester and Chairman Powell again. However, there is no evidence that the Fed is prepared to change its tune. Overall, it doesn’t appear that US news is likely to move markets. So unless something changes with either Brexit or Italy, I expect a pretty dull day.

Good luck
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Little Fear

Much to all Free Traders’ chagrin
More tariffs are set to begin
But markets appear
To have little fear
This madness will cause a tailspin

As NY walks in this morning, there has been very limited movement in the dollar overall. While yesterday saw a modicum of dollar weakness, at least against the G10 currencies, we remain range bound with no immediate prospects for a breakout. It does appear that US data is turning more mixed than clearly bullish, as evidenced by yesterday’s Empire Manufacturing Survey data, which printed at 19, still solid but down from last month’s reading of 25.6 as well as below expectations of 23.0. A quick look at the recent history of this indicator shows that it appears to be rolling over from its recent high levels, perhaps signaling that peak growth is behind us.

At this point, it is fair to question what is causing this change in tone. During the summer, US data was unambiguously strong, with most releases beating expectations, but lately that dynamic has changed. The most obvious catalyst is the ongoing trade situation, which if anything worsened yesterday when President Trump announced that the US would be imposing 10% tariffs on an additional $200 billion of Chinese imports. In addition, these are set to rise to 25% in January if there is no further progress in the trade negotiations. As well, Trump threatened to impose tariffs on an additional $267 billion of goods, meaning that everything imported from China would be impacted. As we have heard from several Fed speakers, this process has grown to be the largest source of uncertainty for the US economy, and by extension for financial markets.

Yet financial markets seem to be quite complacent with regard to the potential damage that the trade war can inflict on the economy and growth. As evidence I point to the modest declines in US equities yesterday, but more importantly, to the rally in Asian equities overnight. While it is fair to say that the impact of this tariff war will not be directly felt in earnings results for at least another quarter or two, it is still surprising that the market is not pricing the potential negative consequences more severely. This implies one of two things; either the market has already priced in this scenario and the risks are seen as minimal, or that the rise in passive investing, which has exploded to nearly 45% of equity market activity, has reduced the stock market’s historic role as a leading indicator of economic activity. If it is the former, my concern is that actual results will underperform current expectations and drive market declines later. However, I fear the latter situation is closer to the truth, which implies that one of the long-time functions of the equity market, anticipating and discounting future economic activity, is changing. The risk here is that policymakers will lose an important signal as to expectations, weakening their collective hands further. And let’s face it, they need all the help they can get!

Turning back to the dollar, not only has the G10 has been dull, but EMG currencies are generally benign as well. In fact, the only substantive movement has come from everybody’s favorite whipping boy, TRY. This morning it is back under pressure, down 1.3% and has now erased all the gains it made in the wake of last week’s surprising 625bp rate hike. But in truth, beyond that, I can’t find an important emerging market currency that has moved more than 20bps. There are two key central bank meetings this week, Brazil tomorrow and South Africa on Thursday. Right now, expectations are for both to stand pat, leaving interest rates in both nations at 6.50%. However, the whisper campaign is brewing that South Africa may raise rates, which has undoubtedly helped the rand over the past two weeks as it has rallied some 4.5% during that time. We will know more by Thursday.

This overall lack of activity implies that traders are waiting the next important catalyst for movement, which may well be next Wednesday’s FOMC meeting! That is a very long time in the market for treading water, however, given the US data the rest of this week is second tier, and the trade situation is widely understood at this time, it is a challenge to see what else will matter until we hear from the Fed. And remember, the market has already priced in a 100% probability that they will raise rates by 25bps, so this is really all about updated forecasts, the dot plot and the press conference. But until then, my sense is that we are in for a decided lack of movement in the FX world.

Good luck
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