Tough Sledding

The Minister, Prime, has declared
Come June, the UK is prepared
To tell the EU
If no deal’s in view
He’ll walk. Sterling bulls should be scared!

Meanwhile as the virus keeps spreading
Investors have found it’s tough sledding
There’s no end in sight
For this terrible blight
Thus, risk assets, most holders keep shedding

While Covid-19 remains the top story across all markets, this morning we did get to hear about something else that mattered, the UK position paper on their upcoming negotiations with the EU regarding trade terms going forward. The EU insists that if a nation wants to trade with them, that nation must respect (read adhere) to the EU’s rules on various issues, notably competition and state aid, but also things like labor conditions. (Funnily enough, China doesn’t seem to need to adhere to these rules). However, Boris has declared, “At the end of this year we will regain, in full, our political and economic independence.” Those are two pretty different sentiments, and while I believe that this is just tough talk designed to level set the negotiations, which begin next week, there is every chance that the UK does walk without a deal. Certainly, that is a non-zero probability. And the FX markets have taken it to heart as the pound has suffered this morning with the worst G10 performance vs. the dollar, falling -0.3%.

In fact, it is the only currency falling vs. the dollar today, which some have ascribed to the dollar’s waning status as a haven asset. However, I would argue that given the dollar’s remarkable strength this year, as outlined yesterday, the fact that some currencies are rebounding a bit should hardly be surprising. Undoubtedly there are those who believe that as Covid-19 starts to be seen in the US, it will have a deleterious impact on the US economy, and so selling dollars makes sense. But remember, the US economy is the world’s largest consumer, by a long shot, so every other country will see their own economies suffer further in that event.

A more salient argument is that the US is the only G10 country (except Canada which really is too small to matter) that has any monetary policy room of note, and in an environment where further monetary policy ease seems a given, the US will be able to be more aggressive than anyone else, hence, lower rates leading to a softer dollar. While that is a viable argument, in the end, as the ongoing demand for Treasuries continues to show, people need dollars, and will buy them, even if they’re expensive. Speaking of Treasuries, the 10-year yield has now fallen another 4bps to 1.29%, a new all-time low yield. And you can’t buy Treasuries using euros or yen!

So as things shape up this morning, it is another risk-off session with most equity markets around the world in the red (Nikkei -2.3%, Kospi -1.1%, DAX -2.5%, CAC -2.4% FTSE 100 -2.2%) and most haven assets (CHF +0.55%, JPY, +0.3%, Gold + 0.4%) performing well. The Covid-19 virus and national responses to the infection continues to be the lead story pretty much everywhere. In fact, last night’s US Presidential press conference was seen to be quite the fiasco as President Trump was unable to convince anyone that the US is on top of the situation. And while I’ve no doubt that things here will not run smoothly, it is not clear to me that things are going to run smoothly anywhere in the world. Fast moving viral epidemics are not something that large governments are very good at addressing. As such, I would look for things to get worse everywhere before they get better.

Looking at some specific FX related stories, perhaps the biggest surprise this morning is the euro’s solid rally, +0.5%, which was underpinned by surprisingly strong Economic Sentiment data for the month of February. This is in spite of the fact that growth figures throughout the major economies on the continent have been turning lower and the unknown consequences of Covid-19. And the euro’s strength has been sufficient to underpin the CE4 currencies, all of which are up by even greater amounts, between 0.6% and 0.85%. Again, these are currencies that have been under pressure for the best part of 2020, so a rebound is not that surprising.

Elsewhere in the EMG bloc, we continue to see weakness in the commodity producers, with oil falling more than 2% this morning and base metals also in the red. MXN (-0.7%), CLP (-0.45%), RUB (-0.3%) and ZAR (-0.3%) remain victims of the coming economic slowdown and reduced demand for their key exports.

This morning’s US session brings us a lot of data including; Initial Claims (exp 212K), Q4 GDP (2.1%) and Durable Goods (-1.5%, +0.2% ex transport). Yesterday’s New Home Sales data was much better than forecast (764K), which given the historically low mortgage rates in the US cannot be that surprising. We also continue to hear from Fed speakers, with each one explaining they are watching the virus situation closely and are prepared to act (read cut rates) if necessary, but thus far, the economic situation has not changed enough to justify a move. It is comments like these that highlight just how much of a follower the Fed has become, unwilling to lead a situation.

Speaking of the foibles of the Fed, I must mention one other thing that serves to demonstrate how out of touch they are with reality. Economists from the SF Fed released a paper explaining that, as currently constructed, the Fed will not be able to achieve their inflation goals because in the next downturn, with rates so low, the public worries that the Fed will not be able to add more support to the economy (my emphasis). Now, I think about the Fed constantly as part of my job, but I am willing to wager that a vanishingly small number of people in this country, far less than 1%, think about the Fed at all…ever! To think that the Fed’s inability to hit their target has anything to do with public sentiment about their power is extraordinary, and laughable!

At any rate, today’s session looks set to continue the risk-off stance, with equity futures down 0.75% or so, and while the dollar has been under pressure overnight, I expect that will be short-lived.

Good luck
Adf

 

Turning the Screws

There once was a great city state
That introduced rules and debate
However its heirs
Lead muddled affairs
Thus Roman woes proliferate

Meanwhile from the UK, the news
Gave Johnson’s opponents the blues
Improvements reported
In confidence thwarted
The Sterling bears, turning the screws

Italian politics has once again risen to the top of the list of concerns in the Eurozone. This morning, 5-Star leader, Luigi Di Maio, is on the cusp of resigning from the government, thus forcing yet another election later this year. The overriding concern from the rest of Europe is that the man leading the polls, Silvio Matteo, is a right-wing populist and will be quick to clash with the rest of the EU on issues ranging from fiscal spending to immigration policy. In other words, he will not be welcome by the current leading lights as his views, and by extension the views of the millions who vote for him, do not align with the rest of the EU leadership. Of course, there has been steady dissent from that leadership for many months, albeit barely reported on this side of the Atlantic. For example, the gilets jaunes continue to protest every week around the country, as they voice their disagreement with French President Macron’s attempts to change the rules on issues ranging from pensions to taxes to labor regulations. And they have been protesting for more than a year now, although the destructive impact has been greatly reduced from the early days. As well, there are ongoing protests in the Catalonia region of Spain with separatists continuing to try to make their case. The point is that things in Europe are not quite as hunky-dory as the leadership would have you believe.

However, for today, it is Italy and the potential for more dissent regarding how Europe should be managed going forward. The result has been the euro reversing its early 0.25% gains completely, actually trading slightly lower on the day right now. While there is no doubt the recent Eurozone data has been better than expected, it remains pretty awful on an absolute basis. But markets respond to movements at the margin, so absent non-market events, like Italian political ructions, it is fair to expect the euro to benefit on this data. In fact, there is an ongoing evolution in the analyst community as a number of them have begun to change their ECB views, with several implying that the ECB’s next move will be policy tightening, and some major Investment Banks now forecasting 10-year German bunds to trade back up to 0.0% or even higher by the end of the year. We shall see. Certainly, if Madame Lagarde hints at tighter policy tomorrow, the euro will benefit. But remember, the ECB is still all-in on QE, purchasing €20 billion per month, so trying to combine the need to continue QE alongside a discussion of tighter policy seems a pretty big ask. At this point, the euro remains under a great deal of pressure overall, but I do expect this pressure to ebb as the year progresses and see the dollar decline eventually.

As to the UK, the hits there just keep on coming. This morning, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), which is essentially the British Chamber of Commerce, reported that both orders and price data improved modestly more than expected, but more importantly their Optimism Index jumped to +23 from last month’s -44, which is actually its highest level since April 2014, well before Brexit was even a gleam in then-PM David Cameron’s eye. Not surprisingly, the pound has rallied further on this positive jolt, jumping 0.5% this morning and is the leading performer against the dollar overall today. It should also be no surprise that the futures market has reduced its pricing for a BOE rate cut next week to a 47% probability, down from 62% yesterday and 70% on Friday. Ultimately, I think that Carney and company would rather not cut if at all possible, given how little room they have with the base rate at 0.75% currently. If we see solid PMI flash data on Friday, I would virtually rule out any chance for a cut next week, and expect to see the pound rally accordingly.

Away from those two stories though, market activity has been far less interesting. The rest of the G10, beyond the pound, is generally within 10bps of yesterday’s closing levels. As to the Emerging markets, the big winner has been ZAR, which has rallied 0.65% after CPI rose to 4.0%, although that remains well below the midpoint of the SARB’s target range of 3.0% – 6.0%. Expectations are for continued policy ease and continue investment inflows to help support the currency. But other than the rand, it has been far less interesting in the FX market.

The ongoing fears over the spread of the coronavirus seem to be abating as China has been aggressively working to arrest the situation, canceling flights out of Wuhan and being remarkably transparent with respect to every new case reported. In fact, equity markets around the world have collectively decided that this issue was a false alarm and we have seen stocks rally pretty much everywhere (Italy excepted) with US futures pointing higher as well.

And that really sums up the day. The ongoing impeachment remains outside of the framework of the market as nobody believes that President Trump will be removed from office. The WEF participants continue to demonstrate their collective ability to pontificate about everything, but do nothing. And so, we need to look ahead to today’s data, and probably more importantly to equity market performance for potential catalysts for movement. Alas, the only US data of note is Existing Home Sales (exp 5.43M), something that rarely moves markets. This leaves us reliant on equity market sentiment to drive the FX market, and with risk definitively on this morning, I expect to see EMG currencies benefit while the dollar suffers mildly.

Good luck
Adf

 

Cashiered!

In China, a virus appeared
That seems to be worse than first feared
It’s spreading so quickly
That markets turned sickly
And stock market bulls got cashiered!

Some of you may remember the SARS virus from the winter of 2002-3, when a respiratory illness, emanating from Guangdong in China, spread quickly around the world resulting in some 800 odd deaths, but more importantly from the market’s perspective, created a very real risk-off environment. As an example, from January through March of 2003, the Dow Jones fell more than 16%, largely on fears that the virus would continue to spread and ultimately reduce economic activity worldwide. Fortunately, that was not the case, as those diagnosed with the virus were isolated and the spread of the disease ended. Naturally, risk was reignited and all was right with the world…until 2008.

I remind everyone of this history as this morning, there is another coronavirus that has been discovered in central China, this time Wuhan seems to be ground zero, and has begun to spread rapidly from human to human. In just a few weeks, more than 200 cases have been reported with several deaths. However, the big concern is that the Lunar New Year celebration begins on Saturday and this is the heaviest travel time of the year within China and for Chinese people around the world. And if your goal was to spread a virus, there is no better way to do so than by getting infected people on airplanes and sending them around the world! Of course, this is nobody’s goal, however it is a very real potential consequence of the confluence of the new virus and the Lunar New Year. The market has reacted just as expected, with risk aversion seen across markets (equities lower, bonds higher) and specific stocks reacting to anticipated direct effects. For example, every Asian airline stock has been aggressively sold lower, while manufacturers of things like latex gloves and face masks have rallied sharply.

Now, while none of this should be surprising, a quick look at market levels shows us that the current impact of this virus has been widespread, at least from a market perspective. For example, equity markets have suffered across the board, although Asia was worst hit (Nikkei -0.9%, Hang Seng -2.8%, Shanghai -1.4%, DAX -0.25%, CAC -0.85%, FTSE -1.0%). Treasury yields have fallen 2bps, although bund yields are actually higher by 0.5bps this morning on the back of stronger than expected ZEW survey data.

And in the currency market, the dollar is broadly, although not universally, higher. It can be no surprise that APAC currencies are under the most pressure given the risk-off causality, with KRW -0.75% and CNY -0.55%, its largest daily decline since last August. But we are also seeing weakness throughout LATAM with both BRL (-0.45%) and MXN (-0.35%) among the day’s worst performers.

In the G10 space, the results have been a bit more mixed, and actually seem more related to data than the general risk sentiment. For example, the pound is today’s big winner, +0.35% after UK Employment data was released with much better than expected results. While the Unemployment Rate remained unchanged at 3.8%, the 3M/3M Employment Change rose 208K, nearly double expectations and the first really good piece of data seen from the UK in two weeks (recall PMI data was a bit better than expected). This has resulted in some traders questioning whether the BOE will cut rates next week after all. Futures markets continue to price a 61% probability, although that is down from 70% on Friday.

Elsewhere, the euro reversed small early losses and now has small gains after the ZEW Expectations data (26.7 vs. 15.0 expected), while the yen has benefitted ever so slightly on two different fronts. First, the broad risk-off market flavor has helped keep the yen underpinned, but more importantly, the BOJ met last night, and although they left policy unchanged, as universally expected, there continues to be a growing belief that the next move there is going to be a tightening! This was reinforced by the BOJ raising its growth estimates for both 2019 (0.8%, up from 0.6%) and 2020 (0.9% up from 0.7%). Of course, offsetting that somewhat was the decline in the BOJ’s inflation forecast, down to 0.8% in 2020 from the previous expectation of 0.9%. In the end, it is difficult to get overly excited about the Japanese economy’s prospects, with a much greater likelihood of significant yen strength emanating from a more severe risk-off event.

Looking ahead to the week, not only is the Fed in its quiet period, but there is a very limited amount of US data set to be released.

Wednesday Existing Home Sales 5.43M
Thursday Initial Claims 214K
  Leading Indicators -0.2%

Source: Bloomberg

Of course, there are two other events this week that may have a market impact, although my personal belief is that neither one will do so. This morning the US Senate takes up the Articles of Impeachment for President Trump that were finally proffered by the House of Representatives. And while the politicos in Washington and the talking heads on TV are all atwitter over this situation, financial markets have collectively yawned throughout the entire process. I see no reason for that stance to change at this point.

The other event is the World Economic Forum in Davos, the annual get together of the rich and famous, as well as those who want to be so, to pontificate on all things they deem important. However, it beggars belief that anything said from this conference is going to change any investment theories, let alone any fiscal or monetary policies. This too, from the market’s perspective, is unlikely to have any impact at all.

And that’s really it for today. Lacking catalysts, I anticipate a quiet session overall. Short term, the dollar still seems to have some life. But longer term, I continue to look for a slow decline as the effects of the Fed’s QE begin to be felt more keenly.

Good luck
Adf

Feelings of Disquietude

In Germany, growth was subdued
In England, inflation’s now food
For thought rates will fall
As hawks are in thrall
To feelings of disquietude

This morning is a perfect lesson in just how little short-term movement is dependent on long-term factors like economic data. German GDP data was released this morning showing that for 2019 the largest economy in the Eurozone grew just 0.6%, which while expected was still the slowest rate in six years. And what’s more, forecasts for 2020 peg German GDP to grow at 0.7%, hardly enticing. Yet as I type, the euro is the best performer in the G10 space, having risen 0.2%. How can it be that weak data preceded this little pop in the currency? Well, here is where the short-term concept comes in; it appears there was a commercial order going through the market that triggered a series of stop-loss orders at 1.1140, and lo and behold, the euro jumped another 0.15%. My point is that any given day’s movement is only marginally related to the big picture and highly reliant on the short term flows and activities of traders and investors. So forecasts, like mine, that call for the euro to rally during this year are looking at much longer term issues, which will infiltrate trading views over time, not a prescription to act on intraday activity!

Meanwhile, the pound has come under modestly renewed pressure after CPI in the UK surprisingly fell to 1.3% with the core reading just 1.4%. This data, along with further comments by the most dovish BOE member, Michael Saunders, has pushed the probability of a UK rate cut at the end of the month, as measured by futures prices, up to 65%. Remember, yesterday this number was 47% and Friday just 25%. At this point, market participants are homing in on the flash PMI data to be released January 24 as the next crucial piece of data. The rationale for this is that the weakness that we have seen recently from UK numbers has all been backward-looking and this PMI reading will be the first truly forward looking number in the wake of the election in December. FYI, current expectations are for a reading of 47.6 in Manufacturing and 49.4 in Services, but those are quite preliminary. I expect that they will adjust as we get closer. In the meantime, look for the pound to remain under pressure as we get further confirmation of a dovish bias entering the BOE discussion. As to Brexit, it will happen two weeks from Friday and the world will not end!

Finally, the last G10 currency of interest today is the Swiss franc, which is vying with the euro for top performer, also higher by 0.2% this morning, as concern has grown over its ability to continue its intervention strategy in the wake of the US adding Switzerland back to the list of potential currency manipulators. Now, the SNB has been intervening for the past decade as they fight back against the franc’s historic role as a safe haven. The problem with that role is the nation’s manufacturing sector has been extraordinarily pressured by the strength of the franc, thus reducing both GDP and inflation. It seems a bit disingenuous to ask Switzerland to adjust their macroeconomic policies, as the US is alleged to have done, in order to moderate CHF strength given they already have the lowest negative interest rates in the world and run a large C/A surplus. But maybe that’s the idea, the current administration wants the Swiss to be more American and spend money they don’t have. Alas for President Trump, that seems highly unlikely. A bigger problem for the Swiss will be the fact that the dollar is likely to slide all year as QE continues, which will just exacerbate the Swiss problem.

Turning to the emerging market bloc, today’s biggest mover is BRL, where the real is opening lower by 0.5% after weaker than expected Retail Sales data (0.6%, exp 1.2%) point to ongoing weakness in the economy and increase the odds that the central bank will cut rates further, to a new record low of just 4.25%. While this still qualifies as a high-yielder in today’s rate environment, ongoing weakness in the Brazilian economy offer limited prospects for a reversal in the near-term. Do not be surprised to see BRL trade up to its recent highs of 4.25 before the bigger macro trend of USD weakness sets in.

And that’s been today’s currency story. I have neglected the signing of the phase one trade deal because that story has been so over reported there is exactly zero I can add to the discussion. In addition, the outcome has to be entirely priced into the market at this point. Equity markets have had difficulty trading higher during the past two sessions, but they certainly haven’t declined in any serious manner. As earnings season gets underway, investors seem to have turned their attention to more micro issues rather than the economy. Treasury yields have been edging lower, interestingly, despite the general good feelings about the economy and risk, but trying to determine if the stock or bond market is “correct” has become a tired meme.

On the data front, this morning brings PPI (exp 1.3%, 1.3% core) but given that we saw CPI yesterday, this data is likely to be completely ignored. We do get Empire Manufacturing (3.6) and then at 2:00 the Fed releases its Beige Book. We also hear from three Fed speakers, Harker, Daly and Kaplan, but at this point, the Fed has remained quite consistent that they have little interest in doing anything unless there is a significant change in the economic narrative. And that seems unlikely at this time.

And so, this morning the dollar is under modest pressure, largely unwinding yesterday’s modest strength. It seems unlikely that we will learn anything new today to change the current market status of limited activity overall.

Good luck
Adf

Growth Can Be Spurred

In England this morning we heard
From Vlieghe, the BOE’s third
Incumbent to say
That given his way
He’d cut rates so growth can be spurred

The pound is under pressure this morning after Gertjan Vlieghe became the third MPC member in the past week, after Carney and Tenreyo, to explain that a rate cut may be just the ticket at this point in time. Adding these three to the two members who had previously voted to cut rates, Haskel and Saunders, brings the number of doves to five, a majority on the committee. It can be no surprise that the pound has suffered, nor that interest rate markets have increased the probability of a 25bp rate cut at the January 30 meeting from below 25% last week to 50% now. Adding to the story was the release of worse than expected November IP (-1.2%) and GDP (-0.3%) data, essentially emphasizing the concerns that the UK economy has a long way to go to recover from the Brexit uncertainty.

However, before you turn too negative on the UK economy, remember that this is backward-looking data, as November was more than 6 weeks ago, and in the interim we have had the benefit of the resounding electoral victory by Boris Johnson. This is not to say that the UK economy cannot deteriorate further, just that there has been a palpable change in the tone of commentary in the UK as Brexit uncertainty has receded. Granted, the question of the trade deal with the EU, which is allegedly supposed to be signed by the end of 2020, remains open. But it is very difficult for market participants to look that far ahead and try to anticipate the outcome. And if anything, Boris has the fact that he was able to renegotiate the original Brexit deal in just six weeks’ time working in his favor. While previous assumptions had been that trade deals take years and years to negotiate, it is clear that Boris doesn’t subscribe to that theory. Personally, I wouldn’t bet against him getting it done.

But for now, the pound is the worst performer of the session, and given today’s news, that should be no surprise. However, I maintain my view that current levels represent an excellent opportunity for payables hedgers to add to hedges.

The other mover of note in the G10 space is the yen, which has fallen 0.4% after traders were able to take advantage of a Japanese holiday last night (Coming-of-age Day) and the associated reduced liquidity to push the dollar above a key technical resistance point at 109.72. Stop-loss orders at that level led to a quick jump at 4:00 this morning, and given the broad risk-on attitude in markets (equity markets worldwide continue to rebound from concerns over further Middle East flare ups), it certainly feels like traders are going to push the dollar up to 110, a level not seen since May. However, the other eight currencies in the G10 have been unable to generate any excitement whatsoever and are very close to unchanged this morning.

In the EMG space, Indonesia’s rupiah is once again the leader in the clubhouse, rising a further 0.7% after the central bank reiterated it would allow the currency to appreciate and following an announcement by the UAE that it would make a large investment in the nation’s (Indonesia’s) sovereign wealth fund. The resultant rally, to the rupiah’s strongest level in almost a year, has been impressive, but there is no reason to believe that it cannot continue for another 5% before finding a new home. This is especially true if we continue to hear good things regarding the US-China trade situation. Trade has also underpinned the second-best performer of the day in this space, KRW, which has rallied 0.5%, on the trade story.

While those are the key stories thus far this session, we do have a full week’s worth of data to anticipate, led by CPI, Retail Sales and Housing data.

Tuesday NFIB Small Biz Optimism 104.9
  CPI 0.3% (2.4% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.2% (2.3% Y/Y)
Wednesday PPI 0.2% (1.3% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.2% (1.3% Y/Y)
  Empire Manufacturing 3.5
  Fed’s Beige Book  
Thursday Initial Claims 218K
  Philly Fed 3.0
  Retail Sales 0.3%
  -ex autos 0.5%
  Business Inventories -0.1%
Friday Housing Starts 1380K
  Building Permits 1460K
  IP -0.1%
  Capacity Utilization 77.0%
  Michigan Sentiment 99.3
  JOLTS Job Openings 7.264M

Source: Bloomberg

So clearly there is plenty on the docket with an opportunity to move markets, and we also hear from another six Fed speakers. While you and I may be concerned about rising prices, it has become abundantly clear that the Fed is desperate to see them rise further, so the only possible reaction to a CPI miss would be on the weak side, which would likely see an equity rally on the assumption that even more stimulus is coming. Otherwise, I think Retail Sales will be the data point of choice for the market, with weakness here also leading to further equity strength on the assumption that the Fed will add to their current policy.

And it is hard to come up with a good reason for any Fed speaker to waver from the current mantra of no rate cuts, but ongoing support for the repo market and a growing balance sheet. And of course, that underlies my thesis that the dollar will eventually fall. Just not today it seems!

Good luck
Adf

Hawks Would Then Shriek

Lagarde and Chair Powell both seek
Consensus, when later this week
Their brethren convene
While doves are still keen
To ease more, though hawks would then shriek

Markets are relatively quiet this morning as investors and traders await three key events as well as some important data. Interestingly, neither the Fed nor ECB meetings this week are likely to produce much in the way of fireworks. Chairman Powell and his minions have done an excellent job convincing market participants that the temporary cyclical adjustment is finished, that rates are appropriate, and that they are watching everything closely and prepared to act if necessary. Certainly Friday’s blowout NFP data did not hurt their case that no further easing is required. By now, I’m sure everyone is aware that we saw the highest headline print since January at 266K, which was supported by upward revisions of 41K to the previous two months’ data. And of course, the Unemployment Rate fell to 3.5%, which is back to a 50-year low. In fact, forecasts are now showing up that are calling for a 3.2% or 3.3% Unemployment Rate next November, which bodes well for the incumbent and would be the lowest Unemployment Rate since 1952!

With that as the economic backdrop in the US, it is hard for the doves on the Fed to make the case that further easing is necessary, but undoubtedly they will try. In the meantime, ECB President Lagarde will preside over her first ECB meeting where there are also no expectations for policy changes. Here, however, the situation is a bit tenser as the dramatic split between the hawks (Germany, the Netherlands and Austria) and the doves (Spain, Portugal and Italy) implies there will be no further action anytime soon. Madame Lagarde has initiated a policy review to try to find a consensus on how they should proceed, although given the very different states of the relevant economies, it is hard to believe they will agree on anything.

Arguably, the major weakness in the entire Eurozone construct is that the lack of an overarching continent-wide fiscal authority means that there is no easy way to transfer funds from those areas with surpluses to those with deficits. In the US, this happens via tax collection and fiscal stimulus agreed through tradeoffs in Congress. But that mechanism doesn’t exist in Europe, so as of now, Germany is simply owed an extraordinary amount of money (~€870 billion) by the rest of Europe, mostly Italy and Spain (€810 billion between them). The thing is, unlike in the US, those funds will need to be repaid at some point, although the prospects of that occurring before the ECB bails everyone out seem remote. Say what you will about the US running an unsustainable current account deficit, at least structurally, the US is not going to split up, whereas in Europe, that is an outcome that cannot be ruled out. In the end, it is structural issues like this that lead to long term bearishness on the single currency.

However, Friday’s euro weakness (it fell 0.45% on the day) was entirely a reaction to the payroll data. This morning’s 0.15% rally is simply a reactionary move as there was no data to help the story. And quite frankly, despite the UK election and pending additional US tariffs on China, this morning is starting as a pretty risk neutral session.

Speaking of the UK, that nation heads to the polls on Thursday, where the Tories continue to poll at a 10 point lead over Labour, and appear set to elect Boris as PM with a working majority in Parliament. If that is the outcome, Brexit on January 31 is a given. As to the pound, it has risen 0.2% this morning, which has essentially regained the ground it lost after the payroll report on Friday. At 1.3165, its highest point since May 2019, the pound feels to me like it has already priced in most of the benefit of ending the Brexit drama. While I don’t doubt there is another penny or two possible, especially if Boris wins a large majority, I maintain the medium term outlook is not nearly as robust. Receivables hedgers should be taking advantage of these levels.

On the downside this morning, Aussie and Kiwi have suffered (each -0.2%) after much weaker than expected Chinese trade data was released over the weekend. Their overall data showed a 1.1% decline in exports, much worse than expected, which was caused by a 23% decline in exports to the US. It is pretty clear that the trade war is having an increasing impact on China, which is clearly why they are willing to overlook the US actions on Hong Kong and the Uighers in order to get the deal done. Not only do they have rampant food inflation caused by the African swine fever epidemic wiping out at least half the Chinese hog herd, but now they are seeing their bread and butter industries suffer as well. The market is growing increasingly confident that a phase one trade deal will be agreed before the onset of more tariffs on Sunday, and I must admit, I agree with that stance.

Not only did Aussie and Kiwi fall, but we also saw weakness in the renminbi (-0.15%), INR (-0.2%) and IDR (-0.2%) as all are feeling the pain from slowing trade growth. On the plus side in the EMG bloc, the Chilean peso continues to stage a rebound from its worst levels, well above 800, seen two weeks ago. This morning it has risen another 0.85%, which takes the gain this month to 4.8%. But other than that story, which is really about ebbing concern after the government responded quickly and positively to the unrest in the country, the rest of the EMG bloc is little changed on the day.

Turning to the data this week, we have the following:

Tuesday NFIB Small Business Optimism 103.0
  Nonfarm Productivity -0.1%
  Unit Labor Costs 3.4%
Wednesday CPI 0.2% (2.0% Y/Y)
  -ex Food & Energy 0.2% (2.3% Y/Y)
  FOMC Rate Decision 1.75%
Thursday ECB Rate Decision -0.5%
  PPI 0.2% (1.2%)
  -ex Food & Energy 0.2% (1.7%)
  Initial Claims 215K
Friday Retail Sales 0.4%
  -ex autos 0.4%

Source: Bloomberg

While there is nothing today, clearly Wednesday and Thursday are going to have opportunities for increased volatility. And the UK election results will start trickling in at the end of the day on Thursday, so if there is an upset brewing, that will be when things are first going to be known.

All this leads me to believe that today is likely to be uneventful as traders prepare for the back half of the week. Remember, liquidity in every market is beginning to suffer simply because we are approaching year-end. This will be more pronounced next week, but will start to take hold now.

Good luck
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No Longer Appealing

Today pound bears seem to be feeling
That shorts are no longer appealing
The polls keep on showing
The Tory lead growing
Look for more complaining and squealing

As well, from the trade front we’ve heard
That progress has not been deterred
Some sources who know
Say Phase One’s a go
With rollbacks the latest watchword

Yesterday was so…yesterday. All of that angst over the trade deal falling apart after President Trump indicated that he was in no hurry to complete phase one has completely disappeared this morning after a story hit the tape citing ‘people familiar with the talks’. It seems that the president was merely riffing in front of the cameras, but the real work has been ongoing between Mnuchin, Lighthizer and Liu He, and that progress is being made. Naturally, the market response was to immediately buy back all the stocks sold yesterday and so this morning we see equity markets in Europe higher across the board (DAX +1.1%, CAC +1.3%) and US futures pointing higher as well (DJIA +0.5%, SPY +0.45%). Alas, that story hit the tape too late for Asia, which was still reeling from yesterday’s negative sentiment. Thus, the Nikkei (-1.1%), Hang Seng (-1.25%) and Shanghai (-0.25%) all suffered overnight.

At the same time, this morning has seen pound Sterling trade to its highest level since May as the latest polls continue to show the Tory lead running around twelve percentage points. Even with the UK’s first-past-the-poll electoral system, this is seen as sufficient to result in a solid majority in Parliament, and recall, every Tory candidate pledged to support the withdrawal agreement renegotiated by Boris. With this in mind, we are witnessing a steady short squeeze in the currency, where the CFTC statistics have shown the size of the short Sterling position has fallen by half in the past month. As a comparison, the last time short positions were reduced this much, the pound was trading at 1.32 which seems like a pretty fair target for the top. Quite frankly, this has all the earmarks of a buy the rumor (Tory victory next week) sell the news (when it actually happens) situation. In fact, I think the risk reward above 1.30 is decidedly in favor of a sharper decline rather than a much stronger rally. Again, for Sterling receivables hedgers, I think adding to positions during the next week will be seen as an excellent result.

Away from the pound, however, the dollar is probably stronger rather than weaker this morning. One of the reasons is that after the euro’s strong performance on Monday, there has been absolutely no follow-through in the market. Remember, that euro strength was built on the back of the dichotomy of slightly stronger than expected Eurozone PMI data, indicating stabilization on the Continent, as well as much weaker than expected US ISM data, indicating things here were not so great after all. Well, this morning we saw the other part of the PMI data, the Services indices, and across all of the Eurozone, the data was weaker than expected. This is a problem for the ECB because they are building their case for any chance of an eventual normalization of policy on the idea that the European consumer is going to support the economy even though manufacturing is in recession. If the consumer starts backing away, you can expect to see much less appealing data from the Eurozone, and the euro will be hard-pressed to rally any further. As I have maintained for quite a while, the big picture continues to favor the dollar vs. the rest of the G10 as the US remains the most robust economy in the world.

Elsewhere in the G10, Australia is today’s major underperformer as the day after the RBA left rates on hold and expressed less concern about global economic issues, they released weak PMI data, 49.7, and saw Q3 GDP print at a lower than expected 0.4%. The point here is that the RBA may be trying to delay the timing of their next rate cut, but unless China manages to turn itself around, you can be certain that the RBA will be cutting again early next year.

In the EMG bloc, the biggest loser was KRW overnight, falling 0.6% on yesterday’s trade worries. Remember, the positive story didn’t come out until after the Asian session ended. In fact, the won has been falling pretty sharply lately, down 3.5% in the past month and tracking quickly toward 1200. However, away from Korea, the EMG space is looking somewhat better in this morning’s risk-on environment with ZAR the big gainer, up 0.5%. What is interesting about this result is the South African PMI data printed at 48.6, nearly a point worse than expected. But hey, when risk is on, traders head for the highest yielders they can find.

Looking to this morning’s US session, we get two pieces of data starting with ADP Employment (exp 135K) at 8:15 and then ISM Non-Manufacturing at 10:00 (54.5). Quite frankly, both of these are important pieces of data in my mind as the former will be seen as a precursor to Friday’s NFP report and the latter will be scrutinized to determine if Monday’s ISM data was a fluke, or something for more concern. The ISM data will also offer a direct contrast to the weak Eurozone PMI data this morning, so a strong print is likely to see the euro head back toward 1.10.

And that’s really it today. Risk is back on, the pound is rolling and whatever you thought you knew from yesterday is ancient history.

Good luck
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