Quite Sublime

The markets are biding their time
Awaiting a new paradigm
On trade and on growth
While hoping that both
Instill attitudes quite sublime

The dollar has rebounded this morning as most of the news from elsewhere in the world continues to point to worsening economic activity. For example, the German ZEW survey printed at -13.4, which while marginally better than the expected -13.6, remains some 35 points below its long-term average of +22. So, while things could always be worse, there is limited indication that the German economy is rebounding from its stagnation in H2 2018. Meanwhile, Italian Industrial Orders fell to -1.8%, well below the +0.5% expectation, and highlighting the overall slowing tenor of growth in the Eurozone. As I have mentioned over the past several days, we continue to hear a stream of ECB members talking about adding stimulus as they slowly recognize that their previous views of growth had been overestimated. With all this in mind, it should be no surprise the euro is lower by 0.25% this morning, giving back all of yesterday’s gains.

At the same time, Swedish inflation data showed a clear decrease in the headline rate, from 2.2%, down to the Riksbank’s 2.0% target. This is a blow to the Riksbank as they had been laying the groundwork to raise rates later this year in an effort to end ZIRP. Alas, slowing growth and inflation have put paid to that idea for now, and the currency suffered accordingly with the krone falling 1.5% on the release, and remaining there since then. Despite very real intentions by European central bankers to normalize policy, all the indications are that the economy there is not yet ready to cooperate by demonstrating solid growth.

The last data point of note overnight was UK employment, where the Unemployment rate remained at a 40 year low of 4.0% and the number of workers grew by 167K, a better than expected outcome. In addition, average earnings continue to climb at a 3.4% pace, which remains the highest pace since 2008. Absent the Brexit debate, and based on previous comments, it is clear that the BOE would feel the need to raise rates in this situation. But the Brexit debate is ongoing and uncertainty reigns which means there will be no rate hikes anytime soon. The latest news is that Honda is closing a factory in Swindon, although they say the driving impulse is not Brexit per se, but weaker overall demand. Nonetheless, the 4500 jobs lost will be a blow to that city and to the UK overall. Meanwhile, the internal politics remain just as jumbled as ever, and the political infighting on both sides of the aisle there may just result in the hard Brexit that nobody seems to want. Basically, every MP is far more concerned about their own political future than about the good of the nation. And that short-sightedness is exactly how mistakes are made. As it happens, the strong UK data has supported the pound relative to other currencies, although it is unchanged vs. the dollar this morning.

Pivoting to the EMG bloc, the dollar is generally, but not universally higher. Part of that is because much of the dollar’s strength has been in the wake of European data well after Asian markets were closed. And part of that is because today’s stories are not really dollar focused, but rather currency specific. Where the dollar has outperformed, the movement has been modest (INR +0.2%, KRW +0.2%, ZAR +0.4%), but it has fallen against others as well (BRL -0.2%, PHP -0.2%). In the end, there is little of note ongoing here.

Turning to the news cycle, US-China trade talks are resuming in Washington this week, but the unbridled optimism that seemed to surround them last week has dissipated somewhat. This can be seen in equity markets which are flat to lower today, with US futures pointing to a -0.2% decline on the opening while European stocks are weaker by between -0.4% and -0.6% at this point in the morning. On top of that, Treasury yields are creeping down, with the 10-year now at 2.66% and 10-year Bunds at 0.10%, as there is the feeling of a modest risk-off sentiment developing.

At this point, the key market drivers seem to be on hold, and until we receive new information, I expect limited activity. So, tomorrow’s FOMC Minutes and Thursday’s ECB Minutes will both be parsed carefully to try to determine the level of concern regarding growth in the US and Europe. And of course, any news on either trade or Brexit will have an impact, although neither seems very likely today. With all that in mind, today is shaping up to be a dull affair in the FX markets, with limited reason for the dollar to extend its early morning gains, nor to give them back. There is no US data and just one speaker, Cleveland’s Loretta Mester, who while generally hawkish has backed off her aggressive stance from late last year. Given that she speaks at 9:00 this morning, it may be the highlight of the session.

Good luck
Adf

 

Great Apprehensions

In England the rate of inflation
Has fallen despite expectation
By Carney and friends
That recent price trends
Would offer rate hike validation

But markets have turned their attentions
To news of two likely extensions
The deadline on trade
And Brexit charade
Have tempered some great apprehensions

Two key data points lead the morning news with UK inflation falling below the BOE’s 2.0% target for the first time since the Brexit vote while Eurozone IP fell far more sharply than expected. Headline CPI in the UK declined to 1.8% while core remained at 1.9%, with both printing lower than market expectations. Given the slowing economic picture in the UK (remember the slowest growth in six years was reported for Q4 and 2018 as a whole), this cannot be that much of a surprise. Except, perhaps, to Governor Carney and his BOE brethren. Carney continues to insist that the BOE may need to raise rates in the event of a hard Brexit given the possibility of an inflation spike. Certainly, there is no indication that is likely at the present time, but I guess anything is possible. Granted he has explained that nothing would be done until the “fog of Brexit” has lifted but given the overall global growth trajectory (lower) and the potential for disruption, it seems far more likely that the next BOE move is down, not up. The pound originally sold off on the news but has since reversed course and is higher by 0.3% as I type. Overriding the data seems to be a growing belief that both sides will blink in the Brexit negotiations resulting in a tentative agreement of a slightly modified deal with a few extra months made available to ratify everything. That’s probably not a bad bet, but it is by no means certain.

On the Continent, the data story was also lackluster, with Eurozone IP falling a much worse than expected -0.9% in December and -4.2% Y/Y. It is abundantly clear that Germany’s problems are not unique and that the probability of a Eurozone recession in 2019 is growing. After all, Italy is already there, and France has seen its survey data plummet in the wake of the ongoing Gilets Jaunes protests. However, despite this data, the euro has held onto yesterday’s modest gains and is little changed on the day. The thing is, I still cannot figure out a scenario where the ECB actually raises rates given the economic situation. Even ECB President Draghi has recognized that the risks are to the downside for the bloc’s economy, and yet he is fiercely holding onto the idea that the next move will be higher rates. It won’t be higher rates. The next move is to roll over the TLTRO’s and interest rates will remain negative for as far as the eye can see. There is a growing belief in the market that because the Fed has halted its policy tightening, the dollar will fall. But since every other central bank is in the same boat, the relative impact still seems to favor the US.

Away from those stories, the market continues to believe that a US-China trade deal is almost done. At least, that’s the way equity markets are trading. President Trump’s comment that he would consider extending the March 1 tariff deadline if there was sufficient progress and it looked like a deal was in the offing certainly helped sentiment. But as with the Brexit issue, where the Irish border situation does not offer a simple compromise, the US requests for ending forced technology transfer and IP theft as well as the reduction of non-tariff barriers strike at the heart of the Chinese economic model and will not be easily overcome. It seems that the most likely outcome will be a delay of some sort and then a deal that will have limited long-term impact but will get played up by both sides as win-win. In the meantime, the PBOC will continue to add stimulus to the economy, as will the fiscal authorities, as they seek to slow the rate of decline. And you can be sure that no matter how the economy actually performs, the GDP data will be firmly above expectations.

And those are the big stories. The dollar has had a mixed performance overnight with two currencies making substantial gains, NZD +1.25% and SEK +0.6%, both of which responded to surprises by their respective central banks. The RBNZ left rates on hold, as universally expected, but instead of offering signs of further rate cuts, simply explained that rates would remain on hold for two years before likely rising. This was taken as hawkish and the currency responded accordingly. Similarly, the Riksbank in Stockholm explained that they still see the need for rates to rise later this year despite the current slowing growth patterns throughout Europe. As I had written yesterday, expectations were growing that they would back away from any policy tightening, so the krone’s rally should be no real surprise. But beyond those two stories, movement has been much less substantial in both the G10 and EMG blocs.

This morning’s data brings CPI (exp 1.5% headline, 2.1% core) which will be closely watched by all markets. Any further weakness will likely see another leg higher in equity markets as it will cement the case for the Fed having reached the end of the tightening cycle. A surprise on the high side ought to have the opposite impact, as concerns the Fed might not yet be done will resurface. There are also three Fed speakers, but for now, that message of Fed on hold seems pretty unanimous across the FOMC.

Absent a surprise, my money is on a directionless day today. The dollar’s recent rally has stalled and without a new catalyst will have a hard time restarting. However, there is no good reason to think things have gotten worse for the buck either.

Good luck
Adf

 

A Few Tweaks

Ms May explained that her Plan B
Was really a wonder, you see
She’d get a few tweaks
And then in ten weeks
The UK would finally be free!

The way I see it, Plan B is essentially a game of chicken. To date, the EU has said that they are firm and will not cede any more ground than that already outlined in the deal on the table. However, with ten weeks to go, the reality that the UK could exit with no deal is starting to hit home. Regardless of what they have said to date, a hard Brexit is going to have real negative impacts on the EU, especially Germany, the Netherlands and France, as they are the biggest trading partners of the UK. So, PM May went back to Parliament and explained that she would go back to the EU and explain that there needed to be some changes or else it was no deal. The first cracks appeared on the EU side with Poland discussing a 5-year transition period as a possibility, although so far, no other EU nation has piped up.

But consider the situation for the ECB. Signor Draghi is desperate to move further down the road of reducing the extraordinary monetary ease that the ECB has implemented. Stopping QE was to be the beginning of the process with the next steps to be slow and steady rate increases. Now, it is already looking like a questionable call, and a hard Brexit will definitely result in even slower Eurozone growth, thus ratcheting up the pressure on Draghi to do something. Remember, this is the man who did ‘whatever it took’ to save the euro during the sovereign debt crisis in 2012. But interest rates are already negative, and they just ended QE last month. Will they really start it up again in a few months’ time? There is significant pressure building on the EU to blink, although whether or not they do is still unclear.

Yesterday I discussed the idea that Parliament would try to take matters into its own hands given its dissatisfaction with PM May’s deal, but that would be an extraordinary outcome, and is in no way certain to be achieved. This morning, the pound has edged higher (just 0.2%) after surprisingly good employment data with the Unemployment Rate falling to 4.0%. Sterling continues to trade well above the lows seen in December though well below most economist estimates of ‘fair value.’ The thing is, given the possibility that there is no Brexit, which would arguably result in a very sharp Sterling rally, as well as the possibility there is a hard Brexit, which would result in a very sharp decline, maybe the pound is in the right place after all. And for hedgers, 50/50 is the best I can offer. If pressed, I would say the odds of no Brexit have increased, but there is still no way to know at this point in time.

Other than this story, however, there is precious little new news of interest to the FX world. The trade situation continues to percolate, as does the US government shutdown, but neither one has seen any change of note overnight. In both cases, there doesn’t appear to be a deal in the near future.

Broadly speaking, risk is off today, with the dollar modestly higher against most counterparts, equity markets softening somewhat along with commodities and Treasury and Bund yields declining slightly. There are still many problems extant in the world, it’s just that none of them are acute right now. However, the odds of another significant disruption appear to be increasing, hence the risk reduction we are witnessing today.

This morning’s data is Existing Home Sales (exp 5.25M), which is unlikely to impact the dollar very much unless it misses by a lot. Otherwise, the market is likely to continue this modest risk aversion unless we hear something about either Trade or the shutdown. In other words, look for a quiet FX session today.

Good luck
Adf

Ill at Ease

The nation that once ruled the seas
Has lately been brought to its knees
The Minister, Prime
Has run out of time
And Parliament’s still ill at ease

In ten days, some votes will be held
As MP’s there all feel compelled
To take more control
Around the black hole
Of Brexit, so fears might be quelled

There continue to be two main stories driving markets, Brexit and the trade war between the US and China. Everything else has faded into the background amid moderating global growth and concerns of worse to come.

Starting with Brexit, in a week and a half (it’s actually 11 days, but that didn’t fit into the limerick), Parliament will be holding a series of votes to try to wrest control of the process from the government and to explain their demands on behalf of the ‘people’. Alas, what is clear is that there is no consensus on how to proceed, with a large number not wanting to go through with it at all, while others seek a hard Brexit. PM May has insisted that the vote was for leaving the EU, and that is exactly what the UK is going to do. Currently, the best idea that anybody seems to have is to seek to delay the official date for up to a year in order to come up with more support for any action at all. There is talk of holding a second referendum, talk of a snap election to help PM May win a mandate on how to proceed, and talk of a hard Brexit. The one thing that is clear is that the deal on the table will not be the roadmap, at least not as currently written.

With all that in mind, the FX market is starting to vote, and they are coming around to the idea that there will be no Brexit at all. At least that is my take on the fact that the pound has been rising steadily since the beginning of the year. While it is actually slightly softer this morning (-0.35%) on the back of weaker than expected Retail Sales figures (-0.9% in Dec), it is higher by 3.5% since January 2nd. My view that a hard Brexit will result in a much lower pound is universal, while a deal would clearly help the pound’s value. But no Brexit at all might open up a very significant rally. Remember, before the vote, the pound was trading around 1.45-1.50. Price action indicates to me that there are more and more traders and speculators who are betting on no Brexit and a sharp rebound. I will say that if there is a decision to hold a second referendum, look for the pound to rally very sharply, easily another 5%-8%, and to do so quickly. I just don’t think there will be another referendum.

As to the trade spat, the WSJ published an article of rumors and innuendo about the idea that the US is contemplating removing tariffs as a sign of good faith and a spur to help an agreement be reached. What was interesting was that at the very end of the article, it was mentioned that all of this talk was in the context of how to move the talks forward, and not an agreed plan of action. But equity markets around the world continue to look for positive catalysts and the end of the trade war would definitely fit that bill. Given the story was published late yesterday afternoon, it is no surprise that equity markets around the world have rallied, with Asia (Nikkei +1.3%, Shanghai +1.4%) and Europe (+1.0%-1.5% across the board) both performing quite well while US futures are pointing higher as well, albeit not quite as robustly (+0.4%). But the dollar has seen very little impact from this news as aside from the pound’s modest decline, it is doing very little overall.

Beyond those stories, much less of note is happening. Next week the ECB meets, and we are starting to see analysts discuss the prospects for the previously expected rate hikes later this year. Given the ongoing softness in Eurozone data, it remains hard to believe that the ECB is going to think that raising rates is the correct move. Rather, more likely will be an extension of the TLTRO’s and interest rates remaining right where they are for an extended period from here. All eyes will be on Signor Draghi’s characterization of the economy, as to whether risks are tilted to the downside or things are balanced, but even if he claims balance, the reality is the data is pointing lower. At some point, that will be acknowledged, and it will be clearer to all that policy will not tighten further in Europe for many years. In fact, it is much easier to believe that the next move will be for easier policy than tighter. And as I have continued to explain, I believe that will help the dollar overall.

As to this morning’s data, we see IP (exp 0.2%), Capacity Utilization (78.5%) and Michigan Sentiment (97.0). Canadian Inflation is also on the docket (1.7%), which hardly seems a reason to expect higher rates there. Looking ahead, there are no more Fed speakers until the meeting on the 30th as they have entered their quiet period. But the message we have received is quite clear, patience is a virtue and there will be no rate hike in either January or March. After that, if the data supports the idea that growth and inflation are picking up, I think they will move, but unfortunately, given the overall tone of data, that seems unlikely. As to the tone for today, it is hard to get too excited about the FX market without further specific news. It wouldn’t surprise to see the pound drift a bit lower as there will be some profit taking on the recent move, but for now, the dollar is likely to remain under very modest pressure overall. Especially if equities in the US perform like those elsewhere.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf

 

Disgraced

Prime Minister May was disgraced
As Parliament calmly laid waste
To hopes that her deal
With Europe could heal
The schism that Brexit emplaced

Yesterday’s Parliamentary vote on the Brexit deal negotiated between PM May’s government and the EU resulted in a resounding rejection. While the UK remains fairly evenly divided on the absolute concept of Brexit, what was made clear was that the terms proposed were unacceptable to all sides. As I have maintained, the Irish border issue is an intractable one, where one side or the other simply must cede ground. There is no middle way. At this time, neither side is willing to do so, and quite frankly, unless Northern Ireland is willing to reunite with Ireland, (which seems highly unlikely any time soon), there can be no deal that will be acceptable to both sides. This leaves three potential outcomes; the UK could leave the EU with no deal in hand and go back to WTO tariff rules; the UK could opt not to leave at all (based on the European Court of Justice ruling from November); or there is a small possibility that the deadline could be delayed a number of months in order to reopen negotiations.

Let’s unpack those three choices.
1. In a no-deal Brexit, pretty much every published analysis by economists has forecast a nearly apocalyptic result for the UK economy, with a deep recession followed by much slower growth. Or course, every one of those economists likely voted to remain as the demographics of the vote showed professionals, especially financial industry professionals, overwhelmingly voted to remain. In other words, they are talking their book. Will the UK suffer? Almost certainly. Will the UK collapse into a depression? Absolutely not. The UK was a strong and viable nation before the EU came into existence and will certainly continue to be so going forward. The market impact of this outcome is likely to be quite negative in the short term, however, with both the pound and UK equity markets falling sharply if it becomes clear this will be the outcome. While both will recover eventually, the timing on that is unclear.

2. If the May government opted to remain in the EU, essentially repudiating the results of the referendum, I fear it would lead to riots in the streets, certainly in the Midlands which led the vote to leave. In fact, I could see an alliance between the French gilets jaune and the Brexiteers as both will be taking to the streets in an effort to change the government. A unilateral decision not to leave would have much deeper consequences with regard to the political system within the UK, as there would be whole swathes of the nation that would cease to trust the government entirely. I actually think this is the least likely scenario, although in the event it occurred, I would expect both the pound and the FTSE to rally sharply initially, but as the consequences of that act became clearer, I imagine both would suffer greatly.

3. Delaying the deadline seems like the best fudge available to both sides at this point, although the initial comments by EU officials followed the line that, given the depth of the defeat of the already negotiated deal, there seems little chance to make small changes and get a new result. This will also require unanimous approval by the remaining 27 members of the EU, which sounds daunting, although if there it was believed there was a serious chance of coming up with a better deal would get done. Here, too, the market response will be for a rally in the pound, and probably the FTSE, as investors would likely take the stance that the delay presages a deal.

However, for the time being, PM May’s first course of business is to fight off the no-confidence motion brought by Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn in his attempt to bring down the government and force a general election. Pundits believe that while the deal was unacceptable, May will hold on. The problem is, she has no ideas as to how to move the process forward. Certainly, the probability of a no-deal Brexit has increased somewhat after the vote. Interestingly, the FX markets have not really priced for that outcome. In fact, since the original vote date, December 11, when May pulled the bill to try to garner more support, the pound has rallied pretty steadily and is nearly 3% higher over the past month. It would seem that FX traders believe a deal will be found.

The other story of note is that the Chinese government is now set to cut taxes in an effort to add fiscal stimulus to their ongoing monetary stimulus efforts. Remember, they have already cut bank reserve requirements by another 1% this year, adding to 2% cuts from last year, and they have created a loan targeting policy for SME’s. Now income tax cuts are to be included as well. This highlights just how poorly the Chinese economy is performing right now, and how critical President Xi believes it is to continue publishing GDP growth above 6%. While the FX market has shown little response to these actions, they have had a much more positive impact on equity markets, with yesterday’s rallies easily attributed to the announcement. The one thing that is certain is that Xi will continue to do whatever he things is necessary to support economic growth in the short run, regardless of the potential longer-term negative consequences. After all, despite being President for life, he is still a politician!

Pivoting to the data story, yesterday Germany reported 2018 GDP growth of just 1.5%, its weakest performance in 5 years, although there was no report on Q4 growth. Given the surprise decline in Q3, pundits were watching to see if Germany had entered a technical recession, although it appears not to be the case. However, it is clear that growth in the engine of Europe is continuing to slow which doesn’t bode well for the entire Eurozone. Nor does it bode well for the ECB’s nascent attempts to remove policy accommodation. In fact, their biggest fear has to be that growth slows further there and they have basically no monetary tools left to combat the situation. This morning’s data has shown that inflation continues to ebb in Europe (France 1.6%, Germany 1.7%, Spain 1.2%, Italy 1.1%), and the UK (2.1%) as well, which reduces pressure to tighten policy at all. While US inflation is also softening, it continues to puzzle me that there is any belief the ECB (or the BOE for that matter) will consider raising interest rates any time soon. So even if the Fed is more dovish (and given remarks from the always hawkish KC President Esther George yesterday, it is clear that there is no rate hike in the near future in the US), the idea that any other central bank is going to be tightening policy is absurd.

In fact, I would argue that the dollar’s recent weakness has been predicated solely on the idea that the Fed will back off on previously forecast rate hikes. But if the Fed is stopping, you can be 100% certain that any thoughts of tighter policy elsewhere are also out the window, and so relatively speaking, the US remains the tightest policy around. I still like the dollar for that reason.

Good luck
Adf

Trumped

A great nation in the Far East
Is seeing its growth rate decreased
Their trade has been ‘Trumped’
As exports have slumped
According to data released

There are two stories of note this morning as follows:

1. Chinese Trade data
2. Brexit vote tomorrow

While both of these stories have knock-on effects, they are the conversation drivers today.

Starting with China, last night’s data showed that both exports (-4.4%) and imports (-7.6%) fell much further than forecast with the resulting Trade balance expanding to a $57 billion surplus. Adding to the concerns was a -13% decline in vehicle sales there, so a trifecta of poor data. The short-term response has been for equity markets to sell off as concerns over slowing global growth mount. In Asia the Hang Seng fell -1.4% while Shanghai fell -0.7%. European equities are also suffering, with the Stoxx 600 down -0.8% amid universal weakness there, and US futures are pointing toward opening declines on the order of -0.8%.

Highlighting the risk sell off, Treasury yields have fallen 3bps, oil prices are down 1.5% and gold has climbed 0.6%. Finally, in the FX market, the yen is today’s leader, rising 0.45% as I type. However, while that describes today’s market movement, the narrative seems to be shifting slightly, toward the idea that a resolution of the trade conflict between the US and China is coming sooner than previously thought. Certainly, if growth in China is slowing more rapidly than expected, President Xi will be motivated to get a deal done, and with the ongoing tribulations in Washington, President Trump would love nothing more than to trumpet a victory on trade. So, it certainly makes sense that both sides will find a solution, but it must be remembered that there are a number of very difficult issues to address, notably the question of IP theft and forced technology transfer, which will not be easy to fudge. With that said, it is clear that a resolution to the trade fight will result in a significant risk-on atmosphere in global markets.

The other story is the imminent vote in the UK Parliament regarding PM May’s Brexit deal. As should be expected in any compromise, nobody is happy with the deal. However, in this case, given May’s weak underlying support (remember she is leading a minority government), it appears that the deal has extremely limited support, even from her own party. It is no longer a question of whether the vote will go against the government, (it will), but by how many votes will it lose. Apparently, anything on the order of 40-50 votes could be seen as close enough for PM May to go back to the EU and seek some minor tweaks in order to get the deal done. However, it is increasingly looking like the loss will be catastrophic, on the order of 100 votes, which will remove any possibility of a Brexit deal.

A ‘No’ vote will leave two possible outcomes, either a no-deal Brexit, something that is greatly feared by markets and politicians alike, or no Brexit at all! The second choice seems quite confusing, given the referendum results in 2016, but several months ago, the European Court of Justice ruled that the UK could unilaterally decide to remain in the EU. Of course, if that is the decision it seems likely to ignite an extraordinary political firestorm within the UK, given that a legal referendum called for Brexit. So, all eyes will be on London tomorrow, but for right now, traders seem to be falling into the no Brexit camp as the pound has rallied 0.3% this morning. I would argue, however, that a no Brexit outcome would see major government upheaval and have quite a negative impact on the UK economy and the pound in the short run.

Away from those stories, there is not much interesting discussion. Overall, the dollar is mixed this morning, with both AUD (-0.3%) and CNY (-0.15%) falling after the Chinese trade data, RUB (-0.45%) and CAD (-0.15%) softer on weakening oil prices and TRY (-1.10%) suffering the slings and arrows of US threats in the event the Turks attack the US-backed Kurds in Syria. On the plus side, it has mostly been the yen and the pound as described above. Net, the dollar is little changed on the day.

Turning to this week’s data, there is a decent amount highlighted by the Fed’s Beige Book on Wednesday.

Tuesday PPI -0.1% (2.5% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.2% (2.9% Y/Y)
  Empire Manufacturing 11.25
Wednesday Fed’s Beige Book  
Thursday Initial Claims 220K
  Philly Fed 10
Friday Capacity Utilization 78.5%
  IP 0.2%
  Michigan Sentiment 97.0

In addition, we hear from four more Fed speakers, including uber-dove Kashkari and NY Fed President Williams. However, the Fed speak is unlikely to have changed from the onslaught last week, meaning there will still be a dovish bias perceived by the market.

As for today, while risk has been reduced, it does not feel like a major rout, but rather a modest adjustment to positions. My sense is that the Brexit vote tomorrow will be the big story for the market, and we will likely bide our time for the rest of the day, at least in FX markets. As long as the narrative continues to focus on a dovish Fed, the dollar will remain under pressure, that is unless the focus turns to more disruptive possible outcomes, when fear really blossoms. However, I don’t see a good reason for that to occur in the short run, so the dollar is apt to stay soft for now.

Good luck
Adf

Greater Clarity

Last year rate hikes had regularity
But now the Fed seeks greater clarity
‘Bout whether our nation
Is feeling inflation
Or some other source of disparity

Investors exhaled a great sigh
And quickly realized they must buy
Those assets with risk
To burnish their fisc
Else soon prices would be too high

The December FOMC Minutes were received quite positively by markets yesterday as it appears despite raising rates for the fourth time in 2018, it was becoming clearer to all involved that there was no hurry to continue at the same pace going forward. The lack of measured inflation and the financial market ructions were two key features that gave pause to the FOMC. While the statement in December didn’t seem to reflect that discussion, we have certainly heard that tune consistently since then. Just yesterday, two more Fed regional presidents described the need for greater clarity on the economic situation before seeing the necessity to raise rates again. And after all, given the Fed has raised rates 225bps since they began in December 2015, it is not unreasonable to pause and see the total impact.

However, regarding the continued shrinking of the balance sheet, the Fed showed no concern at this point that it was having any detrimental effect on either the economy or markets. Personally I think they are mistaken in this view when I look at the significant rise in LIBOR beyond the Fed funds rate over the past year, where Fed Funds has risen 125 bps while LIBOR is up 187bps. But the market, especially the equity market, remains focused on the Fed funds path, not on the balance sheet, and so breathed a collective sigh of relief yesterday.

Given this turn of events, it should also not be surprising that the dollar suffered pretty significantly in the wake of the Minutes’ release. In the moments following the release, the euro jumped 0.7% and continued subsequently to close the day nearly 1% stronger. One of the underpinnings of dollar strength has been the idea that the Fed was going to continue to tighten policy in 2019, but the combination of a continuous stream of comments from Fed speakers and recognition that even back in December the Fed was discussing a pause in rate hikes has served to alter that mindset. Now, not only is the market no longer pricing in rate hikes this year, but also analysts are backing away from calling for further rate hikes. In other words, the mood regarding the Fed has turned quite dovish, and the dollar is likely to remain under pressure as long as this is the case.

Of course, the other story of note has been the trade talks between the US and China which ended yesterday. During the talks, market participants had a generally upbeat view of the potential to reach a deal, however, this morning that optimism seems to be fading slightly. Equity markets around the world have given back some of their recent gains and US futures are also pointing lower. As I mentioned yesterday, while it is certainly good news that the talks seemed to address some key issues, there is still no clarity on whether a more far-reaching agreement can be finalized in any near term timeline. And while there has been no mention of tariffs by the President lately, a single random Tweet on the subject is likely enough to undo much of the positive sentiment recently built.

The overnight data, however, seems to tell a different story. It started off when Chinese inflation data surprised on the low side, rising just 1.9% in December, much lower than expected and another red flag regarding Chinese economic growth. It seems abundantly clear that growth there is slowing with the only real question just how much. Forecasts for 2019 GDP growth have fallen to 6.2%, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them lowered going forward. On the other hand, the yuan has actually rallied sharply overnight, up 0.5%, despite the prospects for further monetary ease from Beijing. It seems that there is a significant inflow into Chinese bond markets from offshore which has been driving the currency higher despite (because of?) those economic prospects. In fact, the yuan is at its strongest level since last August and seemingly trending higher. However, I continue to see this as a short-term move, with the larger macroeconomic trends destined to weaken the currency over time.

As to the G10 currencies, they have stabilized after yesterday’s rally with the euro virtually unchanged and the pound ceding 0.25%. Two data points from the Eurozone were mixed, with French IP slipping to a worse than expected -1.3% while Italian Retail Sales surprised higher at +0.7% back in November. While there was no UK data, the Brexit story continues to be the key driver as PM May lost yet another Parliamentary procedural vote this morning and seems to be losing complete control of the process. The thing I don’t understand about Brexit is if Parliament votes against the current deal next week, which seems highly likely at this stage, what can they do to prevent a no-deal Brexit. Certainly the Europeans have not been willing to concede anything else, and with just 79 days left before the deadline, there is no time to renegotiate a new deal, so it seems a fait accompli that the UK will leave with nothing. I would welcome an explanation as to why that will not be the case.

Turning to this morning’s activity, the only data point is Initial Claims (exp 225K), but that is hardly a market moving number. However, we hear from three regional Fed presidents and at 12:45 Chairman Powell speaks again, so all eyes will be focused on any further nuance he may bring to the discussion. At this point, it seems hard to believe that there will be any change in the message, which if I had to summarize would be, ‘no rate changes until we see a strong reason to do so, either because inflation jumps sharply or other data is so compelling that it forces us to reconsider our current policy of wait and see.’ One thing to keep in mind, though, about the FX markets is that it requires two sets of policies to give a complete picture, and while right now all eyes are on the Fed, as ECB, BOJ, BOE and other central bank policies evolve, those will have an impact as well. If global growth is truly slowing, and the current evidence points in that direction, then those banks will start to sound more dovish and their currencies will likely see plenty of selling pressure accordingly. But probably not today.

Good luck
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