Further Afflictions

Each day there is growing conviction
The buck is due further affliction
More views now exist
The Fed will soon ‘Twist’
Thus, slaking the market’s addiction

But even if Powell and friends
Do act as the crowd now contends
Does anyone think
Lagarde will not blink
And cut rates at which her group lends?

You cannot read the financial press lately without stumbling across multiple articles as to why the dollar is due to fall further.  There is no question it has become the number one conviction trade in the hedge fund community as well as the analyst community.  There are myriad reasons given with these the most common:

1.     The introduction of the vaccine will lead to a quicker recovery globally and demand for risk assets not havens like the dollar
2.     The Biden administration will be implementing a new, larger stimulus package adding to the global reflation trade
3.     The Fed is going to embark on a new version of Operation Twist (where they swap short-dated Treasuries for long-dated Treasuries) in order to add more stimulus, thus weakening the dollar
4.     The market technical picture is primed for further dollar weakness in the wake of recent price action breaking previous dollar support levels.

Let’s unpack these ideas in order to try to get a better understanding of the current sentiment.

The vaccine story is front page news worldwide and we have even had the first country, the UK, approve one of them for use right away.  There is no question that an effective vaccine that is widely available, and widely taken, could easily alter the current zeitgeist of fear and loathing.  If confidence were to make a comeback, as lockdowns ended and people were released from home quarantines, it would certainly further support risk appetite.  Or would it?

Consider that risk assets, at least equities, are already trading at record high valuations as investors have priced in this outcome.  You may remember the daily equity rallies in October and November based on hopes a vaccine would be arriving soon.  The point is, it is entirely possible, and some would say likely, that the vaccine implementation has already been priced into risk assets.  One other fly in this particular ointment is that so many businesses have already permanently closed due to the government-imposed restrictions worldwide, that even if economic demand rebounds, supply may not be available, thus driving inflation rather than activity.

How about the idea of a new stimulus package adding to global reflation?  Again, while entirely possible, if, as is still widely expected, the Republicans retain control of the Senate, any stimulus bill is likely to disappoint the bulls.  As well, if this is US stimulus, arguably it will help support the US economy, US growth and extend the US rebound further and faster than its G10 and most EMG peers.  Yes, risk will remain in favor, but will that flow elsewhere in the world?  Maybe, maybe not.  That is an open question.

Certainly, a revival of Operation Twist, where the Fed extends the maturity of its QE purchases in order to add further support to the economy by easing monetary policy further would be a dollar negative.  I thought it might be instructive to see how the dollar behaved back in 2011-12 when Ben Bernanke was Fed Chair and embarked on the first go-round of this policy.  Interestingly enough, from September 2011 through June 2012, the first leg of Operation Twist, the dollar rallied 8.7% vs. the euro.  When the Fed decided to continue the program for another six months, the first dollar move was a continuation higher, with another 2.75% gain, before turning around and weakening about 6%.  All told, through two versions of the activity, the dollar would up slightly firmer (2.5%) than when it started.

And this doesn’t even consider the likelihood that if the Fed eases further, all the other major central banks will be doing so as well.  Remember, FX is a relative game, so relative monetary policy moves are the driver, not absolute ones.  And once again, I assure you, that if the euro starts to rally too far, the ECB will spare no expense to halt that rally and reverse it if possible.  Currently, the trade-weighted euro is back to levels seen in early September but remains 1.75% below the levels seen in 2018.  It is extremely difficult to believe that the ECB will underperform next week at their meeting if the euro is climbing still higher.  Deflation in Europe is rampant (CPI was just released at -0.3% in November), and a strong currency is not something Lagarde and her compatriots can tolerate.

Finally, looking at the technical picture, it may well be the best argument for further dollar weakness.  To the uninitiated (including your humble author) the variety of technical indicators observed by traders can be dizzying.  However, some include satisfying the target of an “inverted hammer” pattern, recognition of the next part of an Elliott Wave ABC correction and DeMark targets now formed for further dollar weakness.  While that mostly sounded like gibberish, believe me when I say there are many traders who base every action on these indicators, and when levels are reached in the market, they swarm in to join the parade.  At the same time, the hedge fund community, while short a massive amount of dollars, is reputed to have ample dry powder to increase those positions.

In sum, ironically, I would contend that the technical picture is the strongest argument for the dollar to continue its recent decline.  Risk assets are already priced for perfection, the vaccine is a known quantity and any Fed move is likely to be matched by other central banks.  This is not to say that the dollar won’t decline further, just that any movement is likely to be grudging and limited.  The dollar is not about to collapse.

A quick recap of today’s markets shows that risk appetite, not unlike yesterday’s lack of enthusiasm, remains satisfied for now.  Asian equities were mixed with the Hang Seng (+0.7%) the leader by far as both the Nikkei (0.0%) and Shanghai (-0.2%) showed no life.  European bourses are mostly lower (DAX -0.4%, CAC -0.25%) although the FTSE 100 is flat on the day.  And US futures are also either side of flat.

Bond markets, are rebounding a bit from their recent decline, with Treasuries seeing yields lower by 1 basis point and European bonds all rallying as well, with yields falling between 2bps and 3bps.  The latter may well be due to the combination of weaker than expected Services PMI releases as well as the news that Germany is extending its partial lockdown to January 10.  (Tell me again why the euro is a good bet here!)

Gold continues to rebound from its correction last week, up another $10 while the dollar, overall, this morning is somewhat softer, keeping with the recent trend.  GBP (+0.6%) is the leading gainer in the G10 on continued hopes a Brexit deal will soon be reached, but the rest of the bloc is +/-0.2%, or essentially unchanged.  EMG gainers include HUF (+0.7%) as the government there expands infrastructure spending, this time on airports, while the rest of the bloc has seen far smaller gains, which seem to be predicated on the idea of US stimulus talks getting back on track.

Initial Claims (exp 775K) data leads the calendar this morning with Continuing Claims (5.8M) and then ISM Services (55.8) at 10:00.  Yesterday’s Beige Book harped on the negative impact that government shutdowns have had on companies with no sign, yet, of vaccine hopes showing up in businesses.  At the same time, Chairman Powell, in his House testimony yesterday, explained that there was no rift between the Fed and the Treasury, and the Fed response when Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said he was recalling unused funds from the CARES act, was merely reinforcement of the idea that the Fed was not going to back away from their stated objectives.

In the end, the dollar remains under pressure and the trend is your friend.  With that in mind, though, it strikes that a decline of more than another 1%-2% will be very difficult to achieve without a more significant correction first.  Again, for receivables hedgers, these are good levels to consider.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Many Pains

In England and Scotland and Wales
The vaccine will soon be for sale
But Brexit remains
A source of more pains
If talks this week run off the rails

What a difference a day makes, twenty-four little hours.  Yesterday morning at this time, the bulls ruled the world.  Equity markets were rallying strongly everywhere, bond markets were under pressure, and the dollar was breaking below two-year support levels.  Although most commodity prices were having difficulty extending their recent gains, gold did manage to rebound sharply all day, and, in fact, is higher by another 0.7% this morning, its death being widely exaggerated.

However, aside from gold, this morning looks quite different on the risk front.  Perhaps, ahead of a significant amount of data coming the rest of the week (ADP this morning, NFP on Friday), as well as next week’s ECB meeting, this is, as a well-known Atlanta based beverage company first told us in 1929, the pause that refreshes.

Arguably, the biggest news this morning is that the UK has cleared the first vaccine for use against Covid-19 with the initial doses to be injected as early as next week.  I don’t think anyone can argue with the idea this is an unalloyed positive for just about everything.  If it proves as effective as the initial testing indicated, and if a sufficient percentage of the population gets inoculated, and if that leads to a rebound in confidence and the end of all the government imposed economic restrictions and lockdowns, it could open the door for 2021 to be a gangbuster-type year of growth and activity.  But boy, that sure is a lot of ifs!

And a funny thing about the market response to this news is that…nothing has happened.  The FTSE 100 is higher by a scant 0.2%, and has not shown the strength necessary to support other European markets as both the DAX (-0.3%) and CAC (-0.2%) are in the red.  Is it possible that the markets have already priced in all the ifs mentioned above?  And, if that is the case, what does it say about the future direction of risk appetite?

This being 2020, the year with imperfect hindsight, it should also be no surprise that the good news regarding the vaccine was offset with potential bad news about Brexit.  Michel Barnier, the EU’s top negotiator, indicated that while the mood was still positive in the round-the-clock negotiations, it is very possible that no deal is reached in time to be ratified by all parties.  And that time is drawing near.  After all, the previous deadlines were all artificial, to try to goose negotiations, but December 31st is written into a treaty signed by both sides.  The contentious issues remain access to UK waters by EU fishing vessels and the idea of what will constitute a level playing field between UK and EU companies given their newly different legal and regulatory masters.  In the event, GBP (-0.8%) is today’s worst G10 currency performer as it quickly fell when Barnier’s comments hit the tape.  Something else to keep in mind regarding the pound is that it feels an awful lot like a successful completion of a Brexit deal is entirely priced in.  So, if that deal is reached, the pound’s upside is likely to be quite limited.  Conversely, if no deal is agreed, look for a substantial shock to the pound, certainly as much as 5%-7% in short order.

And with that cheery thought in mind, let us peruse the overall market condition this morning, where eyeglasses are losing their tint.  Equity markets in Asia overnight were as close to unchanged as a non-holiday session would allow, with the largest movement from a main index, the Hang Seng, just +0.1%.  Both the Nikkei and Shanghai moved less, as investors seemed to be coping with a bit of indigestion after the recent sharp rally.  As mentioned above, European bourses have been no better, with only Spain’s IBEX (+0.4%) showing any hint of life, but the rest of the continental exchanges all in the red.  Even US futures markets are under modest pressure, with all three lower by about 0.2%.

The Treasury market saw an impressive decline yesterday, with yields rising 7 basis points in the 10-year, as the risk rally exploded all day long.  European bond markets also declined, but not quite like that.  Given the ECB’s reported -0.3% CPI reading, the case that bond yields on the continent should be rising is very difficult to make.  This morning, though, movement is measured in fractions of basis points, with only Italian BTP’s having recorded anything larger than a 1 basis point move today, in this case a decline in yields.  Otherwise, we are + / – 0.5 basis points or less in Treasuries, Bunds, OAT’s and Gilts.  In other words, nothing to see here.

Oil is feeling a bit toppish here, having rallied 36% during the month of November, but how ceding about 4% during the past few sessions.  OPEC+ talks remain mired in disagreement with the previous production cuts potentially to be abandoned.  However, taking a longer-term view, analysts are pointing to the changes in the US fracking community (i.e. bankruptcies there) and forecasting a significant decline in US oil production in 2021, which, if that occurs, is likely to provide significant price support.

And finally, the dollar, which fell sharply against virtually every currency yesterday, led by BRL (+2.7%) in the emerging markets and EUR (+1.2%) in the G10, has found its footing today.  Looking at the G10 first, NOK (-0.65%) is the laggard alongside the aforementioned pound and SEK (-0.5%).  The euro (-0.25%) has maintained the bulk of its gains after having finally pushed through key resistance at 1.2011-20, the levels seen in early September. Remember, short USD is the number one conviction trade for Wall Street for 2021, and EUR positions remain near all-time highs.

An aside in the euro is that markets continue to look to next week’s ECB meeting with expectations rife the PEPP will be expanded and extended.  Madame Lagarde promised us things would change, and every speaker since, including the Latvian central bank President, who this morning explained that €500 billion more in the PEPP with a timing extension to mid-2022 would be acceptable, as would an extension in the maturity of TLTRO loans to 5 years.  The point is that despite the confidence so many have that the dollar is destined to collapse next year, there is no way other central banks will allow that unimpeded.

Back to markets, on the EMG slate, the situation is similar with more losers than gainers led by ZAR (-1.1%) and PLN (-0.6%).  Of course, both these currencies saw stronger gains yesterday, so this seems to be a little catch-up price action.  Actually, CLP (+0.65%) has opened stronger this morning, simply adding to yesterday’s gains without an obvious catalyst, while KRW(+0.5%) continues to benefitt from better than expected trade and GDP data.

On the data front, this morning brings ADP Employment (exp 430K) as well as the Beige Book this afternoon.  As well, we will hear again from Chairman Powell, who in the Senate yesterday told us all that there needed to be more fiscal stimulus and that the Fed would do all they can to support the economy.  Given this has been the message for the past six months, nobody can be surprised.  However, one idea that seems to be developing is that the Fed could well announce purchases of longer dated bonds at their December meeting in two weeks’ time, which would certainly have an impact on the bond market, and would be seen as easier money, thus likely impact the dollar as well.  When he speaks to the House today, don’t look for anything new.

All told, today is a breather.  Clearly momentum is for a weaker dollar right now, but I continue to believe these are excellent levels for receivables hedgers to act.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Cloaked in Fog

***Moderna vaccine indicated at 94.5% effective** – 6:56am

The rebound in growth
Set records. But the future
Remains cloaked in fog

Similar to what we have seen in every major economy, Q3 GDP growth in Japan recorded the highest ever rate since statistics were first collected and calculated in 1980.  The 21.4% annualized growth in Q3 (5.0% Q/Q), however, was substantially below the levels seen in the US (7.5% Q/Q), France (18.2% Q/Q), Germany (8.2% Q/Q) and the UK (15.5%).  Perhaps the bigger concern for Japan is the fact that it has recouped barely half the economic losses derived from the onset of Covid-19.  And adding to that concern is the recent resurgence in Covid cases, both in Japan and its major export markets, means that Q4 growth is unlikely to continue this trend, and could very well fall back into negative territory, depending on just how long shutdowns are in place around the world.

Investors, however, embraced the news (or embraced some news if not this) as the Nikkei continued its recent rally, rising 2.05% overnight amidst an overall risk-on setting.  In fact, since the close on October 30, the Nikkei has rallied nearly 13% despite relatively unimpressive data.  Not only that, given the BOJ is already at max support, it is unclear what else they can be expected to do to support the economy.  And yet, the equity market would have you believe the future is bright!  The one market not participating in this is FX, where the yen remains unchanged on the session, seemingly unable to decline despite the risk rally, but unable to advance in a weak dollar environment.

As calendar pages keep turning
There’s something that is quite concerning
The Brexit morass
Has reached an impasse
With neither side, for a deal, yearning

While there is no question that deals like the one currently needed to achieve a smooth Brexit on December 31st are always pushed off until there is no more time to delay, it certainly appears that we are getting awfully close to that time.  The big news last week was that Dominic Cummings, one of PM Johnson’s key advisors and a major architect of the entire Brexit campaign, resigned from his post.  Pundits immediately expected the UK to soften their position on state aid, which along with fishing rights for EU (mainly French) fleets are the two big issues remaining to be sorted.  But so far, that is not the case, with the UK’s chief negotiator, David Frost, explaining today that the UK “will not be changing” their positions as the next round of negotiations begins in Brussels.  And yet, markets remain entirely sanguine about the results, clearly expecting a deal to be reached and approved in time.  This is evident in the fact that the pound has actually rallied slightly today, 0.1%, and remains well-ensconced in its recent uptrend.  Similarly, the FTSE 100 continues its recent rally, rising 0.7% and is 14% higher than its close at the end of October.  Gilt yields?  Essentially unchanged on the day at 0.34%.  The point is, there is very little concern that a hard Brexit is in our future.  Either that, or the market is completely convinced that if one comes, the BOE will be able to do something about it. FWIW, the latter seems a bad bet.

Ultimately, the story of today’s session is that risk is a wonderful thing, and those who seek to manage risk or exhibit prudence with their positioning will be left behind again.  In the growth vs. value debate, value still has no value, it’s all about growth.  As an aside, perhaps economist Herbert Stein said it best with his observation now known as Stein’s Law; “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.”  Bull markets cannot go on forever, so beware!

But they continue this morning with risk everywhere rallying.  Elsewhere in Asia, the Hang Seng rose 0.9% and Shanghai 1.1% after Chinese data showed IP slightly better than expected in October (6.9% Y/Y) although Retail Sales disappointed at 4.3% (exp 5.0%).  However, not only did equity markets there rally, so did the renminbi, rising a further 0.35% overnight and back to its strongest level since June 2018.

In fact, even before the Moderna vaccine news hit the tape, equities were all in the green in Europe (DAX (+0.5%, CAC +1.2%) and US futures were jumping (DOW +1.0%, SPX +0.7%, NASDAQ +0.7%), and they have risen further in the wake of the headline.  Perhaps everything is rosy and we are set to return to some sense of normalcy.  Of course, if that’s the case, will central banks worldwide still need to provide so much support?  And if they don’t provide that support, will markets be able to continue to rally on their own?  Just something to consider.

But at this time, the good vibes are everywhere, with oil markets (+2.5%) encouraged by the idea that the return to normal lies just around the corner, while gold, which had been higher earlier, seems no longer to be necessary in this brave new world, and has fallen 0.8% on the day (1% since the headline.)

Meanwhile, FX markets are in full risk-on mode.  In the G10 bloc, NOK (+0.9%) is the leading gainer, benefitting from the combination of overall risk appetite and the rise in oil prices.  After that, there is a group of commodity currencies (AUD, NZD and CAD all +0.4%) rising on the back of stronger commodity prices.  The euro and pound have both edged higher by 0.1%, and in the wake of the Moderna news, the yen has actually fallen back, (-0.3%), with risk metrics clearly dominating the dollar story now.

In the EMG bloc, BRL has opened much stronger (+1.5%) and we are seeing strength in the commodity focused currencies here as well; RUB (+1.25%), MXN (+1.1%), ZAR (+1.0%).  The rest of the bloc, excepting the Turkish lira (-1.0%) which remains beholden to the inconsistencies of Erdogan’s policies, is also generally firmer but not quite to the same extent.  However, the entire story is risk is ON.

On the data front, Retail Sales dominate the week,:

Today Empire Manufacturing 13.8
Tuesday Retail Sales 0.5%
-ex autos 0.6%
IP 1.0%
Capacity Utilization 72.3%
Business Inventories 0.6%
Wednesday Housing Starts 1455K
Building Permits 1567K
Thursday Initial Claims 700K
Continuing Claims 6.4M
Philly Fed 22.0
Leading Indicators 0.7%
Existing Home Sales 6.45M

Source: Bloomberg

But if the risk appetite is going to be as strong as this morning indicates, none of the data is going to matter.  Nor will anything that the dozen Fed speakers upcoming this week have to say.  Instead, this is all about the vaccine, growth and FOMO.  In this environment, the dollar is likely to remain under modest pressure, but at the end of the day, there is no reason to believe it will decline sharply.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Over the Moon

Investors are over the moon
And singing a happy new tune
As Pfizer’s vaccine
Has come on the scene
And raised hope we’ll soon be immune

The market responded with glee
As pundits now seem to agree
With gridlock ahead
The vaccine, instead
Will rescue our economy

Frankly, it is hard to keep up with the narrative shifts between yesterday and today as there have been so many new opinions about how the future will unfold.  As I was completing this missive yesterday morning the Pfizer vaccine news hit the tape.  Certainly, the market was unprepared for an announcement that a vaccine with 90% efficacy was in late stage trials, implying that it could soon be approved, and distribution begun.  Hopes for a vaccine had been a key driver of markets on many days in the past several months, although market rallies were ostensibly keyed by hopes for many things like a blue wave, gridlock, and if you go back far enough, a trade deal.  However, the news of the success triggered a stupendous rally in equity markets and risk assets in general while haven assets, especially Treasuries, Bunds and Gilts, along with the yen, Swiss francs and gold, all sold off sharply.  Yesterday, I was cynical regarding the end of the pandemic being at hand, but this morning, that outcome has far more promise.

Of course, the real question is, if this vaccine truly does work, and is distributed widely enough to instill confidence in the general population, how much has the economy actually changed and to what degree are those changes permanent?

Clearly, the biggest change has been the recognition that working from home, for many jobs, is quite viable.  Technology has reached the point where meetings via Webex or Zoom or Partners seem to be quite productive (at least as productive as any meetings ever are.)  My personal experience is that I have gone from driving nearly 2000 miles per month, largely for commuting, to having driven 3000 miles in the past seven months.  Not only have I used significantly less fuel, but my car has seen dramatically less wear and tear, and thus any replacement has been postponed accordingly.  And that is just one facet of the changes.  Commercial real estate and office buildings will likely need to be repurposed going forward as the requirement for corporate staffs to all gather in a single premise has been shown to be unnecessary.

But what about travel and entertainment?  With a vaccine, does that mean people will be jumping back on airplanes to visit clients or relatives or go on vacation again?  Is the movie theater experience ever going to be as desirable again?  After all, given the remarkable array of streaming entertainment services, and the fact that TV’s have grown so remarkably large, watching at home has many advantages over going out, so what percentage of the population will be heading back out soon?  In truth, the one segment I expect to really benefit is restaurants, as while it appears people embraced preparing food at home, I expect the ability to go out, eat and not have to wash the dishes has real appeal to a majority of the population.

My point is the dynamics of economic activity going forward are likely to be very different than that which we remember from before the pandemic and its attendant lockdowns and disruptions.

Of more importance to our discussion here, what does this mean for the central banks going forward.  Remember, Chairman Powell has essentially promised not to raise interest rates until 2023, a minimum of 2+ years from now.  But what if economic activity takes off, as people find a new mix of activities and regain the confidence to gather when desired.  If growth rebounds and inflation (which is already picking up) continues to rise, will they stand pat because of that promise?  Will the ECB?  The BOJ?  The BOE?  Quite frankly, I believe the central bank community was quite happy with the current situation.  They were largely lauded as heroes for preventing even worse outcomes, they had significantly increased their power and sway within governments, and the playbook was easy, print lots of money and buy bonds (or other assets) to support market functioning.  Not only that, they could carp at governments for not implementing fiscal stimulus and the intelligentsia all agreed!

But if this vaccine really is the difference maker, and people return to some semblance of their pre-covid activities, suddenly, central bank largesse may no longer be needed.  And if they continue their current policies and inflation starts to really pick up, they will be the ones being lambasted for their actions or delayed reactions.  While it is very early day(s) in this new story, it is the first time since before the financial crisis where central bankers may find themselves the targets of wrath, rather than the saviors of the world.  (People wonder whether Chairman Powell will be reappointed; quite frankly he may not want the job!)

With all that in mind, how have markets behaved since the news hit the tape?  Yesterday’s equity market performance was quite interesting, as the early euphoria (DOW 29933) reversed and stocks wound up closing much lower, with the NASDAQ actually falling 1.5% on the day.  There was also a huge rotation from the previous winners (Mega cap tech companies) into the previous losers (value and transportation stocks).  Asia followed suit with a mixed session (Nikkei +0.25%, Hang Seng +1.1%, Shanghai -0.5%) and Europe has also lacked some direction.  For instance, the DAX is unchanged on the day while the CAC has rallied 1.1% despite horrific IP and Labor data.  Spain is much firmer (+2.2%) and Italy has fallen (-0.25%).  In other words, this is not a vaccine driven market, rather it has to do with some pretty lousy data out of Europe.  The US dichotomy continues with DOW futures higher by 0.6%, SPX futures basically unchanged and NASDAQ futures lower by -1.6%. Perhaps there was a bubble in some of those stocks after all.

Bond markets continue to sell off everywhere, except Greece, as the narrative here is quite clear; vaccine => rebounding economic growth => less central bank policy ease => higher rates.  So, this morning 10-year Treasury yields are up to 0.94%, 2 basis points higher than yesterday after a 10-basis point rise yesterday.  But we are seeing yields higher between 1 and 3 basis points throughout Europe as well.  The question to ask is, Is the ‘new vaccine makes everything better’ narrative realistic or overdone, and just how long before economic activity actually starts to rebound?

Finally, the dollar can only be described as mixed, but leaning stronger.  Ignoring TRY (-2.0%) which is what we should always be doing, the EMG markets have more losers than winners with ZAR (-0.7%) and PLN (-0.6%) leading the way.  On the flip side, THB (+0.5%) and CNY (+0.3%) are both performing reasonably well.  If anything, it is hard to cobble together a consistent story as to why any of these currencies are moving in their current direction given the inconsistencies.

As to the G10 space, there have been two gainers of note, GBP (+0.65%) and NOK (+0.5%), with only CHF (-0.3%) showing any real weakness.  The rest of the bloc is little changed overall.  NOK is benefitting from the ongoing rally in oil prices, up another 1.5% this morning, which takes the move since Thursday to a 5% gain.  As to the pound, comments from the BOE’s Chief Economist, Andy Haldane yesterday seemed to change the market’s view as to the possibility of negative rates in the future.  By calling the vaccine a “game changer” he implied future central bank actions were likely to be less aggressive.

On the data front, the NFIB Small Business indicator was released right on expectations of 104.0.  Beyond that, we only see the JOLT’s Job Openings data, but that is for September, so has very limited appeal in a market that is seeing massive changes daily.  As mentioned above, Eurozone data was generally lousy, with both French (-6.0% Y/Y) and Italian (-5.1% Y/Y) Industrial Production disappointing and French Unemployment rising to 9.0%, its highest level since 2018.  As well, German ZEW Surveys were quite weak, with Expectations falling to 39.0, far lower than expected.

And so we have a market that needs to look through worsening recent data to the potential for a dramatic change regarding the vaccine and its ability to help economic activity find a new normal.  My view is we have seen significant excesses in many markets during the past several months and years, and there is every chance a significant amount gets unwound.  I do believe volatility will remain with us for a while, as there are many possible outcomes.  But in the end, while the dollar will have bouts of both strength and weakness, the one thing that will not happen is a collapse.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

A Shot of Caffeine

It’s true that, eternal, hope springs
And sessions like this give it wings
The news, seemingly
Is twixt Trump and Xi
Less angst will lead to better things

As well, hope has grown, a vaccine
Is likely, this year, to be seen
Now bulls rule the roost
Thus, giving a boost
To stocks like a shot of caffeine

Another day, another round of stories seemingly designed solely to boost equity markets around the world.  The first of these is a bit oblique, as the word from ‘insiders’ is that the Trump administration, despite its increasingly vocal hard line vs. the Chinese, is maintaining back channel communications, specifically regarding the WeChat app, and US companies’ ability to continue to use it in their advertising and marketing campaigns in China.  This is important as WeChat is a critical advertising venue for virtually every company in China, and if the mooted ban by the Trump administration in the US was a world-wide ban, most US companies would see their Chinese businesses devastated. If we forget, for a moment, the convenient timing of these leaked comments, this is, unarguably, good news for those US companies active in China.  Certainly, this is worth some added value to equity prices.

But let’s unpack the second story, the one about the vaccine.  While this weekend saw an announcement for the approval of another treatment, convalescent plasma injections, the big prize remains a working vaccine that is both safe and efficacious.  Briefly, the idea behind the plasma injections is that individuals who have recovered from the disease have antibodies in their blood, which can be separated and injected into severely ill patients in an effort to boost the patient’s own disease fighting capability.  As in everything to do with Covid-19, it remains experimental and there is controversy as to how well the therapy may work.  But given the desperation of some patients to get something done, the President has decided to overrule other voices and give emergency clearance.  However, this is a treatment, not a preventative.

The vaccine remains the holy grail.  To date, there are on the order of 180 different vaccines in various stages of development, 10 of which are in Phase 3 or have been given limited approvals.  Clearly, pharmaceutical companies see this as the newest potential blockbuster drug.  But the real question seems to be, even when (if) a vaccine is created, will it really change the nature of the spread of Covid-19 by that much?  It is unambiguous that the market narrative’s answer to that question is a resounding yes.  However, perhaps it is worth casting a skeptical eye on the idea.

Using influenza as our model, as it is the closest thing we have with respect to its contagion and even the structure of the disease and working under the assumption that human nature remains constant, the numbers don’t point to a vaccine as panacea.

Consider, in the US, roughly 45% of the population receives the flu vaccine each year.  In addition, it is only effective for, at most, two-thirds of those who do receive the vaccine.  Thus, the protective ‘shield’ that the flu vaccine creates is effective for roughly 30% of the population.  One of the reasons we consistently hear so much every year about getting the flu vaccine via PSA’s is that the virology community calculates we need a greater percentage of the population vaccinated to achieve a herd immunity.  And yet, the 45% inoculation rate has been pretty steady for years.  Human nature is pretty hard to change.

This begs the question, will the take-up of a Covid-19 vaccine be higher than that for the flu?  And if so, will it reach the level’s necessary to achieve herd immunity, thus encouraging governments to relax many of the current restrictions and people to resume some semblance of their former lives?

The argument for a higher take-up rate is that the media has gone out of its way to highlight the deadliness of Covid-19, in some cases exaggerating the numbers for effect, in what appears to be an attempt to sow fear in the population.  The underlying belief to this strategy is to convince a large portion of the population of the criticality of receiving the vaccine once it becomes available.  And perhaps this will be a successful strategy.  But human nature has taken a long time to evolve to where it currently resides, and the case for a flu-like take-up rate, and thus a failure to achieve herd immunity, is based on the idea that unless one has been sickened already, or personally knows someone who has, it is hard to make the case that inoculation rates will increase over those of the flu vaccine.

Alas, my money is on the under.  However, will that matter for the markets?  That is an entirely different question, and one which speaks to confidence, not data.  At this time, I would contend the underlying market belief is that a vaccine is going to be approved, and be effective, within the next twelve months.  The result will be an end to the lockdowns and a resumption in economic activity worldwide that is much closer to the pre-Covid time.  But if this is so, one needs to be careful that we are not looking at the biggest ‘but the rumor’ reaction in history, and that the approval of a safe vaccine could well be the proverbial bell for the top of the equity market.  Remember, economic growth is still a product of population growth and productivity, and there is nothing about a Covid vaccine that will have increased either of those from pre-Covid days.

That exceptionally long discussion was driven by the remarkable ongoing rally in risk assets seen this morning.  Equity markets in Asia were all higher (Nikkei +0.3%, Hang Seng +1.75%) and Europe is really on fire (DAX +2.3%, CAC +2.15%).  US futures are currently 1.0% higher and climbing.  Bonds are under modest pressure, with 10-year yields higher by 1 basis point in the US and most of Europe.  Oil prices, along with gold, are higher by 0.5%-0.7%, modest by their recent standards.  And the dollar is definitely under a bit of pressure.

In the G10 space, SEK and AUD lead the way, both higher by 0.5%, although the gains are fairly solid across the board.  In fact, despite extending the lockdown in Auckland, NZ, kiwi has retraced early losses and is higher by 0.25%.  In the EMG bloc, ZAR leads the way, up 1.2%, as the combination of risk positive stories and higher commodity prices continues to encourage investors to buy South African bonds.  But virtually the entire space is firmer this morning with two outliers, KRW (-0.25%) which fell after the central bank downgraded the economic outlook further, and TRY (-0.8%), which continue to see capital flee as the central bank is prevented by President Erdogan from raising rates.

There has been virtually no data today, and in truth, all eyes will be on Chairman Powell Thursday morning, when he speaks at the virtual Jackson Hole gathering.  Expectations are he is going to outline the new Fed framework, with a higher inflation target, and other potential changes.  But we will look into that later this week.  As for today, I see no reason to believe that the current risk attitude is going to change, so further dollar weakness is likely on the cards.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Buying is Brisk

Apparently, there is no fear
As it’s become patently clear
The shape we will see
Of growth is a ‘V’
As long as that vaccine is near

So, don’t talk to me about risk
Who cares ‘bout the federal fisc?
A hot war in Asia?
That’s bearish fantasia
Instead, retail buying is brisk!

If you are not adding to your risk positions this morning, you are clearly not paying attention. Virtually unbridled bullishness has gripped markets on word that a vaccine has had very promising results and is soon heading into Phase 3 trials. This news is more than sufficient to overwhelm pedantic issues like increasing tensions between the US and China playing out in Hong Kong; US bank results showing a massive increase in loan-loss reserves as expectations of defaults climb; or the complete lack of activity by the Senate regarding the potential extension of extraordinary unemployment benefits that are due to lapse on July 31.

Historically, issues like the US-China tension, or arguably more importantly, the signal from banks about the pending collapse of loan repayments, would have played out with more investor trepidation. While risk asset prices might not have collapsed, they certainly would not have shown the strength they have of late. But then, the central bank community has done their very best to rewrite history, or perhaps demonstrate that they have learned from history, by expanding their balance sheets dramatically and injecting trillions of dollars’ worth of liquidity into the global economy. It should be no surprise that those trillions have made their way into markets, rather than the real economy, given the trend of financialization that has played out over the past two decades.

Curmudgeons would argue that no central bank is supposed to care about markets per se, rather their role is to foster price stability primarily, with a number, including the Fed, having been tasked with insuring full employment. But nowhere is it written that supporting equity markets is part of the mandate. And yet, that is essentially where the situation now stands. Equity market displacements are met with increased central bank activity. In fact, this is so ingrained in investor attitudes that we now have equity rallies on bad news under the assumption that the relevant central bank will be forced to add more liquidity by buying more risk assets.

There is, however, one market that seems to be paying attention to the historic storyline; government bonds. Treasury yields continue to grind lower (10-year at 0.61%) as a certain class of investors seem to see a less rosy future. Of course, one could make the argument that bonds are rallying because the Fed is buying them, but the problem with that story right now is the Fed’s balance sheet has actually been slowly shrinking over the past several weeks, by something on the order of $300 billion. Instead, this appears to be a genuine concern over future risks, something that is completely absent from the equity space.

So, which market is correct? Are the equity bulls prescient, implying there is a V-shaped recovery in our future? Or are the fixed income buyers seeing more clearly, recognizing that the economy is rebounding, but the pace will be much slower than desired? If we look to an outside agency to help us, the FX market, for example, recent price action is aligned with adding to risk appetites. But then, the ultimate haven asset, gold, is also continuing to rally. Being a curmudgeon myself, I tend toward the view that the next several years are going to be much tougher than currently expected by the risk bulls. But for now, they remain in control!

With this in mind, it should be no surprise that the dollar is under pressure this morning. In the G10 space, NOK is the leader, up 1.0%, as a combination of broad-based dollar weakness and higher oil (WTI +1.4%) has seen demand increase. But all the high beta currencies (SEK, AUD, NZD) are higher as well, on the order of 0.6%. Even the yen is stronger into this mix, rising 0.3%, as distaste for the dollar spreads.

At this point, I cannot ignore the euro. While today’s movement is a modest 0.3% gain, it has been on a mission of late, rising 1.7% since Friday. There are many subplots here, with discussions about the relative stance of the ECB vs. the Fed, short-term risk-on knee-jerk reactions to buy euros, and perhaps most importantly, the questions over the long-term viability of the US government running enormous twin deficits (budget and current account) and how those are going to get financed. For now, the Fed has been the financier for the government, but debt monetization has never been the path to a stronger currency, rather just the opposite. What is interesting is that this longer-term discussion is being dusted off by analysts once again, with many newly revamped calls for the dollar to continue its decline for the rest of the year.

One thing that would definitely support this thesis would be if the EU actually moved forward on mutualization of debt. You will recall several weeks ago that Merkel and Macron announced they both agreed on a €500 billion EU support program that was to be funded by 30-year and 40-year EU bond issuance, jointly payable by the entire bloc. This has been held up by a minority of countries, the so-called frugal four, as they are uninterested in paying for Southern Europe’s profligate history. But word this morning from France indicated a belief that a deal was to be completed at this week’s EU Summit. If this is the case, that is an unambiguous euro positive. But if we know anything about the EU, it is that nothing proceeds smoothly, even when everyone there agrees. We shall see, but the story has definitely helped the single currency.

In the EMG bloc, ZAR is the runaway leader, rising 1.3% on the general story as well as higher gold and commodity prices. What is interesting is that this continues despite news that Eskom, the national utility, is going to reduce power production, certainly not a sign of economic strength. But we are seeing gains almost universally in this bloc as HUF (+0.9%), MXN (+0.8%) and the rest of the CE4 all perform quite well. In other words, there is no need for dollars to assuage fears. The one exception here is IDR (-1.0%), which suffered overnight as traders anticipate the central bank to cut rates more than 25bps tonight, while the pace of infection growth there increases, leading many to believe there will be another economic shutdown.

The strong risk positive attitude has also manifested itself across equity markets (Nikkei +1.6%, DAX +1.6%, CAC +1.9%), with US futures pointing sharply higher as well (Dow and S&P e-minis both higher by 1.3%). And finally, while the trend in Treasury yields is certainly lower, today has seen a modest back up across all bond markets (Bunds +1bp, Gilts +2.5bps, Treasuries +2bps).

Turning to the morning’s session, we have only modest data releases; Empire Manufacturing (exp 10.0), IP (4.3%) and Capacity Utilization (67.8%). Then at 2:00 comes the Fed’s Beige Book, which should be an interesting look at the progress of the reopening of the economy. There is only one Fed Speaker, Philly Fed President Harker, but what has been interesting lately is the dissent in views between various FOMC members regarding the pace of the recovery. And that is why the data is still important.

But for now, the risk bulls are running the show, so do not be surprised if the dollar weakness trend continues.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

 

A Vaccine’s Required

Mnuchin and Powell explained
That Congress ought not be restrained
In spending more cash
Or else, in a flash
The rebound might not be maintained

Meanwhile, as the quarter expired
The data show growth is still mired
Within a great slump
And hopes for a jump
Are high, but a vaccine’s required

I continue to read commentary after commentary that explains the future will be brighter once a Covid-19 vaccine has been created. This seems to be based on the idea that so many people are terrified of contracting the disease they they will only consider venturing out of their homes once they believe the population at large is not contagious. While this subgroup will clearly get vaccinated, that is not likely to be majority behavior. If we consider the flu and its vaccine as a model, only 43% of the population gets the flu shot each year. Surveys regarding a Covid vaccine show a similar response rate.

Consider, there is a large minority of the population who are adamantly against any types of vaccines, not just influenza. As well, for many people, the calculation seems to be that the risk of contracting the flu is small enough that the effort to go and get the shot is not worth their time. Ask yourself if those people, who are generally healthy, are going to change their behavior for what appears to be a new form of the flu. My observation is that human nature is pretty consistent in this regard, so Covid is no scarier than the flu for many folks. The point is that the idea that the creation of a vaccine will solve the economy’s problems seems a bit far-fetched. Hundreds of thousands of small businesses have already closed permanently because of the economic disruption, and we are all well acquainted with the extraordinary job loss numbers. No vaccine is going to reopen those businesses nor bring millions back to work.

And yet, the vaccine is a key part of the narrative that continues to drive risk asset prices higher. While we cannot ignore central bank activities as a key driver of equity and bond market rallies, the V-shaped recovery is highly dependent on the idea that things will be back to normal soon. But if a vaccine is created and approved for use, will it really have the impact the market is currently anticipating? Unless we start to see something akin to a health passport in this country, a document that certifies the holder has obtained a Covid-19 shot, why would anyone believe a stranger is not contagious and alter their newly learned covid-based behaviors. History shows that the American people are not fond of being told what to do when it comes to restricting their rights of movement. Will this time really be different?

However, challenging the narrative remains a difficult proposition these days as we continue to see the equity bulls in charge of all market behavior. As we enter Q3, a quick recap of last quarter shows the S&P’s 20% rally as its best quarterly performance since Q4 1998. Will we see a repeat in Q3? Seems unlikely and the risk of a reversal seems substantial, especially if the recent increase in Covid cases forces more closures in more states. In any event, uncertainty appears especially high which implies price volatility is likely to continue to rise across all markets.

But turning to today’s session, equity markets had a mixed session in Asia (Nikkei -0.75%, Hang Seng +0.5%) despite the imposition of the new, more draconian law in Hong Kong with regard to China’s ability to control dissent there. Meanwhile, small early European bourse gains have turned into growing losses with the DAX now lower by 1.5%, the CAC down by 1.4% and the FTSE 100 down by 1.0%. While PMI data released showed that things were continuing on a slow trajectory higher, we have just had word from German Chancellor Merkel that “EU members [are] still far apart on recovery fund [and the] budget.” If you recall, there is a great deal of credence put into the idea that the EU is going to jointly support the nations most severely afflicted by the pandemic’s impacts. However, despite both German and French support, the Frugal Four seem to be standing their ground. It should be no surprise that the euro has turned lower on the news as well, as early modest gains have now turned into a 0.3% decline. One of the underlying supports for the single currency, of late, has been the idea that the joint financing of a significant budget at the EU level will be the beginning of a coherent fiscal policy to be coordinated with the ECB’s monetary policy. If they cannot agree these terms, then the euro’s existence can once again be called into question.

Perhaps what is more interesting is that as European equity markets turn lower, and US futures with them, the bond market is under modest pressure as well this morning. 10-year Treasury yields are higher by more than 2bps and in Europe we are seeing yields rise by between 3bps and 4bps. This is hardly risk-off behavior and once again begs the question which market is leading which. In the long run, bond investors seem to have a better handle on things, but on a day to day basis, it is anyone’s guess.

Finally, turning to the dollar shows that early weakness here has turned into broad dollar strength with only two currencies in the G10 higher at this point, the haven JPY (+0.4%) and NOK (+0.2%), which has benefitted from oil’s rally this morning with WTI up by about 1% and back above $40/bbl. In the emerging markets, only ZAR has managed any gains of note, rising 0.4%, after its PMI data printed at a surprisingly higher 53.9. On the flip side, PLN (-0.6%) is the laggard, although almost all EMG currencies are softer, as PMI data there continue to disappoint (47.2) and concerns over a change in political leadership seep into investor thoughts.

On the data front, we start to see some much more important data here today with ADP Employment (exp 2.9M), ISM Manufacturing (49.7) and Prices Paid (44.6) and finally, FOMC Minutes to be released at 2:00. Yesterday we saw some thought provoking numbers as Chicago PMI disappointed at 36.6, much lower than expected, while Case Shiller House Prices rose to 3.98%, certainly not indicating a deflationary surge.

Yesterday we also heard the second part of Chairman Powell’s testimony to Congress, where alongside Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, he said that the Fed remained committed to doing all that is necessary, that rates will remain low for as long as is deemed necessary, and that it would be a mistake if Congress did not continue to support the economy with further fiscal fuel. None of that was surprising and, quite frankly, it had no impact on markets anywhere.

At this point, today looks set to see a little reversal to last quarter’s extremely bullish sentiment so beware further dollar strength.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

 

‘Twas Nothing At All

Does anyone here still recall
When Covid had cast a great pall
On markets and life
While causing much strife?
Me neither, ‘twas nothing at all!

One can only marvel at the way the financial markets have been able to rally on the same story time and again during the past two years. First it was the trade talks. After an initial bout of concern that growing trade tensions between the US and China would derail the global economy led to a decline in global equity market indices, about every other day we heard from President Trump that talks were going very well, that a Phase One deal was imminent and that everything would be great. And despite virtually no movement on the subject for months, those comments were sufficient to drive stock prices higher every time they were made. Of course, we all know that a phase one deal was, in fact, reached and signed, but it occurred a scant week before the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

What has been truly remarkable is that the market’s reaction to the virus has followed almost the exact same pattern. Once it became clear that Covid-19 was going to be a big deal, causing significant disruption throughout the world, stock prices tumbled in a series of extraordinary sessions in March and early April. But since then, we have seen a powerful rally back to within a few percent of the all-time highs set in February. And these days, every rally is based on the exact same story; to wit, some company [insert name here] is on the cusp of creating a successful Covid vaccine and things will be back to normal soon.

So, as almost all of us continue to work from home, shelter in place and maintain our social distance, investors (gamblers?) have discerned that everything is just fine, and that economic recovery is on the way. And maybe they are right. Maybe history is going to look back on this time and show it was an extremely large disruption, but an extremely short-term one that had almost no long-term impact. But, boy, that seems like a hard picture to paint if you simply look at the data and understand how economies work.

Every day we see data that describes how extraordinary the impact of government lockdown policies has been, with rampant unemployment, virtual halts in manufacturing, complete halts in group entertainment and bankruptcies of erstwhile venerable companies. And every day the global equity markets rally on the prospect of a new vaccine being discovered. I get that markets are forward looking, but they certainly seem blind to the extent of damage already inflicted and what that means for the future. Even if activities went back to exactly the way they were before the outbreak, the fact remains that many businesses are no longer in existence. They could not withstand the complete absence of revenues for an extended period of time, and so have been permanently shuttered. And while new businesses will rise to take their place, that is not an overnight process. It seems thin gruel to rally on the fact that Germany’s IFO Expectations Index rallied from its historically worst print (69.4) to its second worst print (80.1), but slightly higher than expected. Or that the GfK Consumer Confidence managed the same feat (-23.4 to -18.9). Both of these data points are correlated with extremely deep recessions.

And yet, that is the situation in which we find ourselves. The dichotomy between extremely weak economic activity and a strong belief that not only is the worst behind us, but that the damage inflicted has been modest, at best. Today is a perfect example of that situation with risk firmly in the ascendancy after the long holiday weekend.

Equity markets are on fire, rallying sharply in Asia (Nikkei +2.5%, Hang Seng +1.9%, Shanghai +1.0%) despite the fact that there is evidence that a second wave of infections is growing in China and may once again force the government there to shut down large swathes of the economy. Europe, too, is rocking with the FTSE 100 (+1.2%) leading the way although gains seen across the board (DAX +0.6%, CAC +1.1%). And US futures would not dare to be left out of this rally, with all three indices up around 2.0%. Meanwhile, Treasury yields are higher by 3.5 basis points with German bund yields higher by 6bps. Of course, Italy, Portugal and Greece have all seen their yields slide as those bond markets behave far more like risk assets than havens.

I would be remiss to ignore the commodity markets which have seen oil rally a further 2.25% this morning, back to $34/bbl and the highest point since the gap down at the beginning of this process back in early March. Gold, on the other hand, is a bit softer, down 0.3%, but remains firmly above $1700/oz as many investors continue to look at central bank activity and register concern over the future value of any fiat currency.

And then there is the dollar, which has fallen almost across the board overnight, and is substantially lower than where we left it Friday afternoon. In the G10 space, AUD (+1.3%) and NZD (+1.5%) are the leaders on the back of broadly positive risk sentiment helped by a better than expected Trade Surplus in New Zealand along with a larger than expected rebound in the ANZ Consumer Confidence Index, to its second lowest reading in history. But the pound is higher by 1.1% on prospects of an end to the nationwide lockdown in the UK. And in fact, other than the yen, which is unchanged, the rest of the bloc is firmer by 0.5% or more, largely on the positive risk sentiment.

In the emerging markets, the runaway winner is the Mexican peso, up 2.7% since Friday’s close as a combination of higher oil prices, a more hawkish Banxico than expected and growing belief that the US, its major export partner, is reopening has led to a huge short-squeeze in the FX markets. In the past week, the peso has recouped nearly 7% of its losses this year and is now down a mere 14.5% year-to-date. Helping the story is the just released GDP number for Q1, which showed a decline of only -1.2%, better than the initially reported -1.6%. But we are also seeing strength throughout the EMG bloc, with PLN (+1.8%), BRL (+1.6%) and ZAR (+1.2%) all putting in strong performances. Risk sentiment is clearly strong today.

Into this voracious risk appetite, we will see a great deal of data this holiday-shortened week as follows:

Today Case Shiller Home Prices 3.40%
  New Home Sales 480K
  Consumer Confidence 87.0
Wednesday Fed’s Beige Book  
Thursday Initial Claims 2.1M
  Continuing Claims 25.75M
  Q1 GDP -4.8%
  Q1 Personal Consumption -7.5%
  Durable Goods -19.8%
  -ex transport -15.0%
Friday Personal Income -6.5%
  Personal Spending -12.8%
  Core PCE Deflator -0.3% (1.1% Y/Y)
  Chicago PMI 40.0
  Michigan Sentiment 74.0

Source: Bloomberg

In addition to the plethora of data, we hear from six different Fed speakers, including Chairman Powell on Friday morning. On this front, however, the entire FOMC has been consistent, explaining that they will continue to do what they deem necessary, that they have plenty of ammunition left, and that the immediate future of the economy will be awful, but things will improve over time.

In the end, risk is being snapped up like it is going out of style this morning, as both investors and traders continue to look across the abyss. I hope they are right…I fear they are not. But as long as they continue to behave in this manner, the dollar will remain under pressure. It rallied a lot this year, so there is ample room for it to decline further.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Won’t Be Repaid

Said Merkel and French Prez Macron
This calls for a grant, not a loan
When speaking of aid
That won’t be repaid
By nations where Covid’s full-blown

The euro is firmer this morning, up a further 0.35% after yesterday’s 0.9% rally, as the market responds to the news that German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emanuel Macron have agreed on a plan for EU-wide assistance to all members. This is the first time that there has been German support for a plan that includes grants to nations, not loans to be repaid, and that these grants are to be distributed to the membership, not based on the capital key, but rather based on where the money is needed most. The funding will come from debt issued by the European Commission and paid out of that entity’s budget. In sum, while this is not actually Eurozone bond issuance, it is a clear step in that direction.

Of course, nothing in the EU is easy, and this is no different. Immediately upon the announcement, Austrian Chancellor Kurz explained that there is no path forward for grants, and that Austria is happy to lend money to those countries in need. Too, the Dutch, Danes and Finns are none too happy about this outcome, but with Germany on board, it will be very difficult to fight. Even so, French FinMin LeMaire made it clear that it will take time to complete the procedure (and he is 100% behind the idea) with the first funds not likely available before early 2021.

However, the importance of this step cannot be underestimated. The tension within the Eurozone has always revolved around how much Germany and its frugal northern neighbors would be willing to pay to the more profligate south in order to maintain the euro as a functioning currency. When looking at which nations benefit most from the single currency, Germany tops the list as the euro is certainly weaker than the Deutschemark would have been in its stead, and thus Germany’s export industries, and by extension its economic performance, have benefitted significantly. It appears that Chancellor Merkel and her administration have now done the math and decided that spending some money to maintain that export advantage is a smart investment. While in the past I have been suspect of the euro’s longevity, this appears to be the first step toward a joint fiscal policy resulting in a far stronger basis for the euro. While there will no doubt be rough seas for this process ahead, if Germany and France are on board, they will ultimately drag everyone else along. This is arguably the most bullish long-term euro story since its creation two decades ago.

The other bullish news for markets yesterday was the announcement that a tiny biotech company in Massachusetts, Moderna Inc, with just 25 employees (although a $29 billion market cap) has seen extremely positive results from a Covid vaccine trial. Apparently, it not only does the job, but does so with limited side effects to boot. While it has yet to undergo larger phase 2 and phase 3 trials, it is certainly extremely bullish news.

The combination of these stories was extremely beneficial for risk assets yesterday, which explains the 3+% rallies in US equity indices, the sell-off in Treasuries (10-year yields rose 7bps) and the dollar’s overall weakness. That bullishness followed through overnight with Asian equity markets gaining nicely (Nikkei +1.5%, Hang Seng +1.9%, Shanghai +0.8%) and Europe starting in the green as well. However, those early gains in Europe have turned red now, with what appears to be profit taking after yesterday’s substantial gains. Clearly, European equity markets were the main beneficiaries of the Franco-German announcement on debt although Italian debt has not done too badly either, with yields on 10-year BTP’s falling 22bps since Friday’s close.

Put it all together and we have a very positive backdrop for the near-term. While data continues to be dreadful, with today’s poster child being the 856K jump in Jobless Claims in the UK last month, we already know the market is looking through the bad news toward the recovery. Of much more importance to market sentiment is the prospect for the reopening of economies around the world. This is where the vaccine story supports everything, because undoubtedly, if there was a widely available vaccine, the stories of devastation would diminish and confidence would quickly return. And while there will certainly be changes in the way people behave going forward, they are not likely to be as dramatic as once imagined. After all, if people are confident they are immune to Covid-19 after a vaccination, they will likely return to their previous lifestyle as quickly as they can.

So, with that overall bullish framework, we cannot be surprised that the other key haven assets, the dollar and the yen, are under pressure this morning. Yesterday’s dollar weakness has extended this morning virtually across the board. In the G10 space, it is the high beta currencies, NZD (+0.85%) and SEK (+0.6%) leading the way, but even the pound, after that terrible employment data, is higher by 0.5%. Only the yen (-0.2%) has ceded ground to the dollar this morning in what is clearly a straight risk-on session.

The EMG bloc is much the same, with every currency on the board firmer vs. the dollar this morning led by HUF (+1.4%) and CZK (+1.2%) as clear beneficiaries of the mooted EU financing program. Remember, this €500 billion can be spent anywhere desired by the Commission. But we are also seeing commodity currencies benefit as MXN (+1.0%) and ZAR (+0.8%) continue to perform well. In fact, over the past two sessions, one is hard-pressed to find a currency that has not appreciated vs. the dollar.

On the data front, beyond the awful UK data, we did see a much better than expected German ZEW Expectations outcome, printing at 51.0, although the current conditions index remains horrendous at -93.5. But the future is much brighter this morning, adding to the euro’s strength. At home, we see Housing Starts (exp 900K) and Building Permits (1000K), neither of which is likely to have a big impact, although stronger than expected data would surely add to the overall positive risk feeling this morning.

As well, Chairman Powell will be testifying to the Senate Banking Committee, but after Sunday night’s performance it is not clear what they will ask that he has not already answered. The Fed is all-in to do everything possible to support the economy. Arguably, the bigger question is will they be able to stop once things have evidently turned better. History shows that once government programs get going, they are virtually indestructible. In this instance, that implies ongoing Fed largesse far past when it is needed, thus much lower interest rates than are appropriate. Combine negative real rates in the US with a bullish structural story in the EU and we have the recipe for a much weaker dollar over time. This week could well be the beginning of a new trend.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf