Frustrations

The global economy’s state
Continues to see growth abate
As trade between nations
Has met with frustrations
While central banks try to reflate

Markets have been extremely quiet overnight as investors and traders await the release of the US payroll report at 8:30 this morning. Expectations, according to Bloomberg, are as follows:

Nonfarm Payrolls 85K
Private Payrolls 80K
Manufacturing Payrolls -55K
Unemployment Rate 3.6%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.0% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.4
Participation Rate 63.1%
ISM Manufacturing 48.9
ISM Prices Paid 50.0
Construction Spending 0.2%

While the GM strike has ended, it was in full swing during the survey period and explains the expected significant decline in manufacturing jobs. One other thing having a negative impact is the reduction of census workers. Given these idiosyncratic features, we must look beyond the headline number to ascertain if the employment situation remains robust, or is starting to roll over. Consider that most analysts expect that the GM strike was worth about 50K jobs and the census situation another 20K. If we add those back to the median expectation of 85K, we wind up at essentially the 3-month average of 157K. However, it is important to remember that the 1-year average is higher, 179K, which indicates that there has been an ongoing decline in new hiring for a little while now. Some of this is certainly due to the fact that, as we have heard repeatedly, finding good employees is so difficult, especially in the service industries. But certainly, the trade situation and the fact that the US economy is growing more slowly is weighing on the data as well.

The reason this is important, of course, is that the NFP report is one of the key metrics for the Fed as they try to manage monetary policy in an uncertain world. Unfortunately for them, the Unemployment Rate is backward looking data, a picture of what has been, not what is likely to be. In truth, they should be far more focused on the ISM report at 10:00. At least that has some forecasting ability.

A quick recap of this week’s central bank activity shows us that there were 3 key meetings; the Bank of Canada, who left policy unchanged but turned dovish in their statement; the FOMC, which cut rates and declared they were done cutting rates unless absolutely necessary; and the BOJ, which left policy unchanged but hinted that they, too, could be induced to easing further if things don’t pick up soon. (I can pretty much promise the BOJ that things are not going to pick up soon, certainly not inflation.) Perhaps the most interesting market response to this central bank activity was the quietest bond market rally in history, where 10-year Treasury yields are, this morning, 15bps lower than Monday’s opening. Only Canada’s 10-year outperformed that move with a 20bp decline (bond rally). Given the rate activity, it ought not be surprising that equity markets retain their bid overall. This morning, ahead of the NFP report, US futures are pointing higher and we have seen gains in Europe (FTSE, CAC, and DAX +0.33%) as well as most of Asia (Hang Seng +0.7%, Shanghai +1.0%) although the Nikkei did fall 0.3%.

And what about the dollar? Well, in truth it is doing very little this morning, with most currencies trading within a 0.20% band around yesterday’s closing levels. The one big exception has been the Norwegian krone which has rallied sharply, 0.65%, after a much better than expected Manufacturing PMI release. Interestingly, this movement has dragged the Swedish krona higher despite the fact that Sweden’s PMI disappointed, falling to 46.0. However, beyond that, there is nothing of excitement to discuss.

We hear from five Fed speakers today, starting with Vice-chairman Richard Clarida, who will be interviewed on Bloomberg TV at 9:30 this morning before speaking at 1:00 to the Japan Society. But we also hear from Dallas Fed President Richard Kaplan, Governor Randall Quarles, SF Fed President Mary Daly and NY’s John Williams before the day is out. It seems to me that the market was pretty happy with Chairman Powell’s comments and press conference on Wednesday so I expect we will see a lot of reaffirmation of the Chairman’s thoughts.

So, all in all, it is shaping up to be a pretty dull day…unless Payrolls are a big surprise. I have a funny feeling that we are going to see a much weaker number than expected based on the extremely weak Chicago PMI data and its employment sub index, as well as the fact that the Initial Claims data seems to be edging higher these days. Of course, the equity market will applaud as they will start to price in more rate cuts, but I think the dollar will suffer accordingly.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf

More Concern

Most data of late have been weak
Thus central banks are set to tweak
Their policy rates
As they have mandates
Designed to keep growth at a peak

Now later this morning we’ll learn
If payrolls are starting to turn
Last month’s poor display
And weakness today
Would certainly cause more concern

It’s payroll day in the US and markets have been extremely quiet overnight. In fact, given yesterday’s July 4th holiday here in the US, they have been quiet for two days. However, don’t let the lack of market activity distract you from the fact that there are still a lot of things ongoing in the global economy.

For example, a key question on analysts’ minds has been whether or not a recession is in the offing. Data continues to generally disappoint, with this morning’s sharply lower German Factory Orders (-2.2%) and UK Labor Productivity (-0.5%) as the latest in a long line of crummy results. And given last month’s disappointment on the US payroll front (recall the outcome was 75K vs. the 185K expected) today’s numbers are being closely watched. Here are the current median expectations based on economist surveys:

Nonfarm Payrolls 160K
Private Payrolls 153K
Manufacturing Payrolls 0K
Unemployment Rate 3.6%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.2% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.4

A couple of things to note are the fact that the NFP number, even if it comes in at the median expectation, still represents a declining rate of job growth compared to what the US experienced in 2018. This is likely based on two factors; first that this historically long expansion is starting to slow down, and second, that there are less available workers to fill jobs as population growth remains restrained. The other thing to remember is that the Unemployment Report has always been a lagging indicator, looking backwards at how things were, rather than giving direction about the future. The point is that worsening of this data implies that things are already slowing. As I wrote Wednesday, don’t be surprised if when the inevitable recession finally gets determined, that it started in June 2019. I failed to mention the ADP report on Wednesday as a data release, but it, too, disappointed, printing at 102K, some 40K below expectations.

With that as our cheerful backdrop, let’s consider what to expect ahead of the release:

Weaker than expected results – If the NFP number prints at 90K or less, look for equity markets to rejoice as they perceive the Fed will become even more aggressive in their attempts to head off a recession, and the idea of a 50bp rate cut at the end of the month takes hold. Bond markets, too, will soar on the same expectations, while the dollar is likely to give up its overnight gains (granted they were only about 0.2%) as a more aggressive Fed will be seen as a signal to sell the buck. The key conundrum in this scenario remains equities, which continue to rally into weaker economic conditions. At some point, if the economy continues to weaken, the negative impact on earnings is going to outweigh the kneejerk reaction of buying when the Fed cuts, but as John Maynard Keynes reminded us all, ‘markets can stay irrational far longer than you can stay solvent.’

Results on or near expectations – If we see a print in the 120K-180K range, I would expect traders to be mildly disappointed as the call for a more aggressive Fed policy would diminish. Thus equities might suffer slightly, especially given they are sitting at record highs, while bonds are likely to see yields head back toward 2.0%. The dollar, meanwhile, is likely to maintain its overnight gains, and could well see a modest uptick as the idea of more aggressive Fed easing starts to ebb, at least for now.

Stronger than expected results – Any print above 180K will almost certainly, perversely, see a stock market selloff. It is abundantly clear that equity buyers are simply counting on Fed largesse to keep the party going. The market has nothing to do with the fundamentals of the economy or individual company situations. With this in mind, strong data means that the Fed will have no call to cut rates. The result is that the futures market will likely reprice the odds of a rate cut in July lower, perhaps to a 50% probability, while equity traders will take the news as a profit-taking opportunity given the lack of reason for a follow through higher in stocks. Bonds will get tossed overboard as well, as concerns about slowing growth will quickly abate, and a sharp move higher in 10-year yields is entirely realistic. As a point of information, the last time the payroll report was released on July 5th, in 2013, 10-year yields rallied 25bps on a surprising payroll outcome. And remember, technical indicators show that the bond market is massively overbought, so there is ample opportunity for a sharp move. And finally, because of the holiday yesterday, trading desks will have skeleton staffs, further reducing liquidity. Oh yeah, and the dollar will probably see significant gains as well.

The point is that there are two possible outcomes that could see some real fireworks (pun intended) today, so stay on your toes. While one number is just that, a single data point, given the recent trend in place, today’s data seem to have a lot of importance. If pressed, my sense is that the trend of weaker data that has been evident worldwide is going to manifest itself with something like a 50K print, and an uptick in the Unemployment Rate to 3.7% or 3.8%.

We will know shortly.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf

The Chaff from the Wheat

As markets await the report
On Payrolls they’re having to sort
The chaff from the wheat
From Threadneedle Street
As Carney, does rate hikes exhort

The gloom that had been permeating the analyst community (although certainly not the equity markets) earlier this year, seems to be lifting slightly. Recent data has shown a stabilization, at the very least, if not the beginnings of outright growth, from key regions around the world. The latest news was this morning’s surprising Eurozone inflation numbers, where CPI rose a more than expected 1.7% in April, while the core rate rose 1.2%, matching the highest level it has seen in the past two years. If this is truly a trend, then perhaps that long delayed normalization of monetary policy in the Eurozone may finally start to occur. Personally, I’m not holding my breath. Interestingly, the FX market has responded by selling the euro with the single currency down 0.2% this morning and 1.0% since Wednesday’s close. I guess that market doesn’t see the case for higher Eurozone rates yet.

In the meantime, the market continues to consider BOE Governor Carney’s comments in the wake of yesterday’s meeting, where he tried to convince one and all that the tendency for UK rates will be higher once Brexit is finalized (and assuming a smooth transition). And perhaps, if there truly is a global recovery trend and policy normalization becomes a reality elsewhere, that will be the case. But here, too, the market does not seem to believe him as evidenced by the pound’s ongoing weakness (-0.3% and back below 1.30) and the fact that interest rate futures continue to price in virtually no chance of rate hikes in the UK before 2021.

While we are discussing the pound, there is one other thing that continues to confuse me, the very fact that it is still trading either side of 1.30. If you believe the narrative, the UK cannot leave the EU without a deal, so there is no chance of a hard Brexit. After all, isn’t that what Parliament voted for? In addition, according to the OECD, the pound at 1.30 is undervalued by 12% or so. Combining these two themes, no chance of a hard Brexit and a massively undervalued pound, with the fact that the Fed has seemingly turned dovish would lead one to believe that the pound should be trading closer to 1.40 than 1.30. And yet, here we are. My take is that the market is not yet convinced that a hard Brexit is off the table or else the pound would be much higher. And frankly, in this case, I agree. It is still not clear to me that a hard Brexit is off the table which means that any true resolution to the situation should result in a sharp rally in the pound.

Pivoting to the rest of the FX market, the dollar is stronger pretty much across the board this morning, and this is after a solid performance yesterday. US data yesterday showed a significant jump in Nonfarm Productivity (+3.6%) along with a decline in Unit Labor Costs (-0.9%), thus implying that corporate activity was quite robust and the growth picture in the US enhanced. We also continue to see US earnings data that is generally beating (quite low) expectations and helping to underpin the equity market’s recent gains. Granted the past two days have seen modest declines, but overall, stocks remain much higher on the year. In the end, it continues to appear that despite all the angst over trade, and current US policies regarding energy, climate and everything else, the US remains a very attractive place to invest and dollars continue to be in demand.

Regarding this morning’s data, not only do we see the payroll report, but also the ISM Non-manufacturing number comes at 10:00.

Nonfarm Payrolls 185K
Private Payrolls 180K
Manufacturing Payrolls 10K
Unemployment Rate 3.8%
Participation Rate 62.9%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.3% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.5
ISM Non-Manufacturing 57.0

One cannot help but be impressed with the labor market in the US, where for the last 102 months, the average NFP number has been 200K. It certainly doesn’t appear that this trend is going to change today. In fact, after Wednesday’s blowout ADP number, the whisper is for something north of 200K. However, Wednesday’s ISM Manufacturing number was disappointingly weak, so there will be a great deal of scrutiny on today’s non-manufacturing view.

Adding to the mix, starting at 10:15 we will hear from a total of five Fed speakers (Evans, Clarida, Williams, Bowman, Bullard) before we go to bed. While Bullard’s speech is after the markets close, the other four will get to recount their personal views on the economy and future policy path with markets still open. However, given that we just heard from Chairman Powell at his press conference, and that the vote to leave rates was unanimous, it seems unlikely we will learn too much new information from these talks.

Summing up, heading into the payroll report the dollar is firm and shows no signs of retreating. My take is a good number will support the buck, while a weak one will get people thinking about that insurance rate cut again, and likely undermine its recent strength. My money is on a better number today, something like 230K, and a continuation of the last two days of dollar strength.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf

Fleeing the Scene

The latest news from the UK
Is that they have sought a delay
Til midsummer’s eve
When, they now believe,
They’ll duly have something to say

But Europe seems not quite so keen
To grant that stay when they convene
It should be a year
Unless it’s quite clear
The UK is fleeing the scene

Despite the fact it is payroll day here in the US, there are still two stories that continue to garner the bulk of the attention, Brexit and trade with China. In the former, this morning PM May sent a letter to the EU requesting a delay until June 30, which seems to ignore all the points that have been made about a delay up until now. With European elections due May 23, the EU wants the UK out by then, or in for a much longer time, as the idea that the UK will vote in EU elections then leave a month later is anathema. But May seems to believe that now that she is in discussions with opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, a solution will soon be found and the Parliament will pass her much reviled deal with tweaks to the political codicil about the future. The other idea is a one-year delay that will give the UK time to hold another referendum and get it right this time determine if it is still the people’s will to follow through with Brexit given what is now generally believed about the economic consequences. The PM is due to present a plan of some sort on Wednesday to an emergency meeting of the EU, after which time the EU will vote on whether to grant a delay, and how long it will be. More uncertainty has left markets in the same place they have been for the past several months, stuck between the terror of a hard Brexit and the euphoria of no Brexit. It should be no surprise the pound is little changed today at 1.3065. Until it becomes clear as to the outcome, it is hard to see a reason for the pound to move more than 1% in either direction.

Regarding the trade story, what I read as mixed messages from the White House and Beijing has naturally been construed positively by the market. Both sides claim that progress is being made, but the key sticking points remain IP integrity, timing on the removal of tariffs by the US, and the ability of unilateral retaliation by the US in the event that China doesn’t live up to the terms of the deal. The latest thought is it will take another four to six weeks to come to terms on a deal. We shall see. The one thing we have learned is that the equity markets continue to see this as crucial to future economic growth, and rally on every piece of ‘good’ news. It seems to me that at some point, a successful deal will be fully priced in, which means that we are clearly setting up a ‘buy the rumor, sell the news’ type of dynamic going forward. In other words, look for a positive announcement to result in a short pop higher in equity prices, and then a lot of profit taking and a pretty good decline. The thing is, since we have no real idea on the timing, nor where the market will be when things are announced, it doesn’t help much right now in asset allocation.

As a side note, I did read a commentary that made an interesting point about these negotiations. If you consider communism’s tenets, a key one is that there is no such thing as private property. So, the idea that China will agree to the protection of private property when it contradicts the Chinese fundamental ruling dicta may be a bit of a stretch. Maybe they will, but that could be quite a hurdle to overcome there. Food for thought.

Now, on to payrolls. Here are the latest consensus forecasts:

Nonfarm Payrolls 180K
Private Payrolls 170K
Manufacturing Payrolls 10K
Unemployment Rate 3.8%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.4% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.5

A little worryingly, the ADP number on Wednesday was weaker than expected, but the month-by-month relationship between the two is not as close as you might think. Based on what we have heard from Fed speakers just yesterday (Harker, Mester and Williams), the FOMC believes that their current stance of waiting and watching continues to be appropriate. They are looking for a data trend that either informs coming weakness or coming strength and will respond accordingly. To a wo(man), however, these three all believe that the economy will have a solid performance this year, with GDP at or slightly above 2.0%, and that it is very premature to consider rate cuts, despite what the market is pricing.

Meanwhile, the data story from elsewhere continues to drift in a negative direction with Industrial Production falling throughout Europe, UK House Prices declining and UK productivity turning negative. In fact, the Italian government is revising its forecast for GDP growth in 2019 to be 0.1% all year and all eyes are on the IMF’s updated projections due next week, which are touted to fall even further.

In the end, the big picture remains largely unchanged. Uncertainty over Brexit and trade continue to weigh on business decisions and growth data continues to suffer. The one truism is that central bankers are watching this and the only difference in views is regarding how quickly they may need to ease policy further, except for the Fed, which remains convinced that the status quo is proper policy. As I continuously point out, this dichotomy remains in the dollar’s favor, and until it changes, my views will remain that the dollar should benefit going forward.

Good luck
Adf

Lost Traction

The tea leaves that everyone’s reading
‘bout trade talks claim risk is receding
Since Donald and Xi
Are desperate anxious to see
A deal that shows both sides succeeding

The equity market reaction
Has been one of great satisfaction
But bonds and the buck
Have had much less luck
As growth on both sides has lost traction

This morning is all about trade. Headlines blaring everywhere indicate that the US and China are close to ironing out their differences and that Chinese President Xi, after a trip through parts of Europe later this month, will visit the US at the end of March to sign a deal. It should be no surprise that global equity markets have jumped on the news. The Nikkei rose 1.0%, Shanghai was up 1.1% while the Hang Seng in Hong Kong rallied 0.5%. We have seen strength in Europe as well, (FTSE +0.5%, CAC +0.5%) although the German DAX is little changed on the day. And finally, US futures are pointing to a continuation of the rally here with both S&P and Dow futures currently trading higher by 0.25%.

However, beyond the equity markets, there has been much less movement in prices. Treasuries have barely edged higher and the dollar, overall, is little changed. It is pretty common for equity market reactions to be outsized compared to other markets, and this appears to be one of those cases. In fact, I would caution everyone about one of the oldest trading aphorisms there is, “buy the rumor, sell the news.” A dispassionate analysis of the trade situation, one which has evolved over the course of two decades, would indicate that a few months hardly seems enough time to solve some extremely difficult issues. The issue of IP (whether stolen or forced to be shared in order to do business) and state subsidies for state-owned firms remains up in the air and given that both these issues are intrinsic to the Chinese economic model, will be extremely difficult to alter. It is much easier for China to say they will purchase more stuff (the latest offer being $23 billion of LNG) or that they will prevent the currency from weakening, than for them to change the fundamentals of their business model. While positive trade sentiment has clearly been today’s driver, I would recommend caution over the long-term impacts of any deal. Remember, the political imperatives on both sides remain quite clear and strong, with both Presidents needing a deal to quiet criticism. But political expediency has rarely, if ever, been a harbinger of good policy, especially when it comes to economics.

Of course, one of the reasons that a deal is so important to both sides is the slowing economic picture around the world and the belief that a trade deal can reverse that process. Certainly, Friday’s US data was unimpressive with Personal Spending falling -0.5% in December (corroborating the weak Retail Sales data), while after a series of one-off events in December pumped up the Personal Income data, that too declined in January by -0.1%. The ISM numbers were softer than expected (54.2 vs. the 55.5 expected) and Consumer Confidence slumped (Michigan Sentiment falling to 93.7). All in all, not a stellar set of data.

This has set up a week where we hear from three key central banks (RBA tonight, Bank of Canada on Wednesday and ECB on Thursday) with previous thoughts of policy normalization continuing to slip away. Economic data in all three economic spheres has been retreating for the past several months, to the point where it is difficult to blame it all on the US-China trade situation. While there is no doubt that has had a global impact (look at Germany’s poor performance of late), it seems abundantly clear that there are problems beyond that.

History shows that most things have cyclical tendencies. This is especially true of economics, where the boom-bust cycle has been a fact of life since civilization began. However, these days, cycles are no longer politically convenient for those in power, as they tend to lose their jobs (as opposed to their heads a few hundred years ago) when things turn down. This explains the extraordinary effort that even dictators like President Xi put into making sure the economy never has a soft patch. Alas, the ongoing efforts to mitigate that cycle are likely to have much greater negative consequences over time. The law of diminishing returns virtually insures that every extra dollar or euro or yuan spent today to prevent a downturn will have a smaller and smaller impact until at some point, it will have none at all. It is this process which drives my concern that the next recession will be significantly more painful than the last.

So, while a trade deal with China would be a great outcome, especially if it was robust and enforceable, US trade with China is not the only global concern. Remember that as the trade saga plays out.

Aside from the three central bank meetings, we also get a bunch of important data this week, culminating in Friday’s payroll report:

Today Construction Spending 0.1%
Tuesday New Home Sales 590K
  ISM Non-Manufacturing 57.2
Wednesday Trade Balance -$49.3B
  ADP Employment 190K
  Fed’s Beige Book  
Thursday Initial Claims 225K
  Nonfarm Productivity 1.7%
  Unit Labor Costs 1.6%
Friday Nonfarm Payrolls 180K
  Private Payrolls 170K
  Manufacturing Payrolls 10K
  Unemployment Rate 3.9%
  Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.3% Y/Y)

In addition to all this, we hear from four more Fed speakers, including Chairman Powell on Friday. It seems increasingly clear that Q1 growth has ebbed worldwide compared to the end of last year, and at this point, questions are being raised as to how the rest of the year will play out. Reading those tea leaves is always difficult, but equity markets would have you believe, based on their recent performance, that this is a temporary slowdown. So too, would every central banker in the world. While that would be a wonderful outcome, I am not so sanguine. In the end, slowing global growth, which I continue to anticipate, will result in all those central bankers following the Fed’s lead and changing their tune from policy normalization to continued monetary support. And that will continue to leave the dollar, despite President Trump’s latest concerns over its strength, the best place to be.

Good luck
Adf

Hitting Home

The current Fed Chairman, Jerome
Initially’d taken the tone
That interest rate hiking
Was to the Fed’s liking
Until hikes began hitting home

Then stock markets round the world crashed
And policymakers’ teeth gnashed
He then changed his mind
And now he’s outlined
His new plan where tightening’s trashed

It’s interesting that despite the fact that the employment report was seen as quite positive, the weekend discussion continued to focus on the Fed’s U-turn last Wednesday. And rightly so. Given how important the Fed has been to every part of the market narrative, equities, bonds and the dollar, if they changed their reaction function, which they clearly have, then it will be the focus of most serious commentary for a while.

But let’s deconstruct that employment report for a moment. While there is no doubt that the NFP number was great (304K, nearly twice expectations, although after a sharply reduced December number), something that has gotten a lot less press is the Unemployment Rate, which rose to 4.0%, still quite low but now 0.3% above the bottom seen most recently in November. The question at hand is, is this a new and concerning trend? If the unemployment rate continues to rise, then the Fed was likely right to stop tightening policy. Yet, most analysts, like politicians, want their cake and the ability to eat it as well. If the Fed has finished tightening because growth is slowing, is that really the outcome desired? It seems to me I would rather have faster growth and tighter policy, a much better mix all around. Now it is too early to say that Unemployment has definitely bottomed, but another month or two of rises will certainly force that to creep into the narrative. And you can bet that will include all the reasons that the Fed better start cutting rates again! Remember, too, if the Fed is turning from tightening to easing, I assure you that the idea the ECB might raise rates is absurd.

Now, with the Fed decision behind us, as well as widely applauded, and the payroll report past, what do we have to look forward to? After all, Brexit is still grinding forward to a denouement in late March, although we will certainly hear of more trials and tribulations before then. I was particularly amused by the idea that the British government has developed plans for the Queen to be evacuated in the event of a hard Brexit. WWII wasn’t enough to evacuate royalty, but Brexit will be? Not unlike Y2K (for those of you who remember that) while a hard Brexit will almost certainly be disruptive in the short run, I am highly confident that the UK will continue to function going forward. The fear-mongering that is ongoing by the British government is actually quite irresponsible.

And of course, there are the US-China trade talks. Except that this week is Chinese New Year and all of China (along with much of Asia) is on holiday. So, there are no current discussions ongoing. But markets have taken heart from the view that President’s Xi and Trump will be meeting in a few weeks, and that they will come to an agreement of some sort. The problem I see is that the big issues are not about restrictions as much as about protection of IP and forced technology transfer. And since the Chinese have consistently denied that both of those things occur, it is not clear to me how they can credibly agree to stop them. The market remains sanguine about the prospects for a trade reconciliation, but I fear the probability of a successful outcome is less than currently priced. While this will not dominate the discussion for another two weeks, be careful when it surfaces again.

Looking ahead to this week, while US data is in short supply, really just trade, we do see more central bank meetings led by the BOE (no change expected), Banxico (no change expected) and Banco do Brazil (no change expected). The biggest risk seems to be in Mexico where some analysts are calling for a 25bp rate cut to 8.00%. We also hear from six Fed speakers, including Chairman Powell again, although at this point, it seems the market has heard all it wants. After all, given Friday’s payroll report, it seems impossible to believe that any Fed member can discuss cutting rates. Not raising them is the best they’ve got for now.

Tuesday ISM Non-Manufacturing 57.1
Wednesday Trade Balance -$54.0B
  Unit Labor Costs 1.7%
  Nonfarm Productivity 1.7%
Thursday Initial Claims 220K
  Consumer Credit $17.0B

So, markets are in a holding pattern while they await the next important catalyst. The stories that have driven things lately, the Fed, Brexit and trade talks are all absent this week. That leads to the idea that the dollar will be impacted by equity and bond markets.

We all know that equity markets had a stellar January and the question is, can that continue? With bond markets also rallying, they seem to be telling us different stories. Equities are looking to continued strength in the economy, while bonds see the opposite. I have to admit, based on the data we continue to see around the world, it appears that the bond market may have it right. As such, despite my concerns over the dollar’s future given the Fed’s pivot, a reversal in equities leading to a risk off scenario would likely underpin the dollar. While it is very modestly higher this morning, it is fair to call it little changed. I think the bias will be for a softer dollar unless things turn ugly. If that does happen, make sure your exposures are hedged as the dollar will benefit.

Good luck
Adf

Really Quite Splendid

For traders, the month that just ended
Turned out to be really quite splendid
The stock market soared
As risks were ignored
Just like Chairman Powell intended

The problem is data last night
Showed growth’s in a terrible plight
Both Europe and China
Can lead to angina
If policymakers sit tight

Now that all is right with the world regarding the Fed, which has clearly capitulated in its efforts to normalize policy, the question is what will be the driving forces going forward. Will economic data matter again? Possibly, assuming it weakens further, as that could quickly prompt actual policy ease rather than simply remaining on hold. But reading between the lines of Powell’s comments, it appears that stronger than expected data will result in virtually zero impetus to consider reinstating policy tightening. We have seen the top in Fed funds for many years to come. Remember, you read it here first. So, we are now faced with an asymmetric reaction function: strong data = do nothing; weak data = ease.

Let’s, then, recap the most recent data. Last night the Caixin Manufacturing PMI data from China was released at a lower than expected 48.3, its lowest point in three years. That is simply further evidence that the Chinese economy remains under significant pressure and that President Xi is incented to agree to a trade deal with the US. Interestingly, the Chinee yuan fell 0.6% on the news, perhaps the first time in months that the currency responded in what would be considered an appropriate manner to the data. That said, the yuan remains nearly 2% stronger than it began the year. We also saw PMI data from Europe with Germany (49.7) and Italy (47.8) both underperforming expectations, as well as the 50.0 level deemed so crucial, while France (51.2) rebounded and Spain (52.4) continued to perform well. Overall, the Eurozone data slid to 50.5, down a full point and drifting dangerously close to contraction. And yet, Signor Draghi contends that this is all just temporary. He will soon be forced to change his tune, count on it. The euro, however, has held its own despite the data, edging higher by 0.2% so far this morning. Remember, though, with the Fed having changed its tune, for now, I expect the default movement in the dollar to be weakness.

In the UK, the PMI data fell to 52.8, well below expectations, as concerns over the Brexit situation continue to weigh on the economy there. The pound has fallen on the back of the news, down 0.3%, but remains within its recent trading range as there is far more attention being paid to each item of the Brexit saga than on the monthly data. Speaking of which, the latest story is that PM May is courting a number of Labour MP’s to see if they will break from the party direction and support the deal as written. It is quite clear that we have two more months of this process and stories, although I would estimate that the broad expectation is of a short delay in the process beyond March and then an acceptance of the deal. I think the Europeans are starting to realize that despite all their tough talk, they really don’t want a hard Brexit either, so look for some movement on the nature of the backstop before this is all done.

Finally, the trade talks wrapped up in Washington yesterday amid positive signs that progress was made, although no deal is imminent. Apparently, President’s Trump and Xi will be meeting sometime later this month to see if they can get to finality. However, it still seems the most likely outcome is a delay to raising tariffs as both sides continue the talks. The key issues of IP theft, forced technology transfer and ongoing state subsidies have been important pillars of Chinese growth over the past two decades and will not be easily changed. However, as long as there appears to be goodwill on both sides, then there are likely to be few negative market impacts.

Turning to this morning’s data, it is payroll day with the following expectations:

Nonfarm Payrolls 165K
Private Payrolls 170K
Manufacturing Payrolls 17K
Unemployment Rate 3.9%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.2% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.5
ISM Manufacturing 54.2
Michigan Sentiment 90.8

Clearly, the payroll data will dominate, especially after last month’s huge upside surprise (312K). Many analysts are looking for a reversion to the mean with much lower calls around 100K. Also, yesterday’s Initial Claims data was a surprisingly high 253K, well above expectations, although given seasonalities and the potential impacts from the Federal government shutdown, it is hard to make too big a deal over it. But as I highlighted in the beginning, the new bias is for easier monetary policy regardless of the data, so strong data will simply underpin a stock market rally, while weak data will underpin a stock market rally on the basis of easier money coming back. In either case, the dollar will remain under pressure.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf