More Trouble is Brewing

The PMI data last night
From China highlighted their plight
More trouble is brewing
While Xi keeps pursuing
The policies to get things right

Any questions about whether the trade conflict between the US and China was having an impact on the Chinese economy were answered last night when the latest PMI readings were released. The Manufacturing PMI fell to 50.2, it’s lowest level in more than two years and barely above the expansion/contraction level of 50.0. Even more disconcertingly for the Chinese, a number of the sub-indices notably export sales and employment, fell further below that 50.0 level (to 46.9 and 48.1 respectively), pointing to a limited probability of a rebound any time soon. At the same time, the Services PMI was also released lower than expected, falling to 53.9, its lowest level since last summer. Here, too, export orders and employment numbers fell (to 47.8 and 48.9 respectively), indicating that the economic weakness is quite broad based.

Summing up, it seems safe to say that growth in China continues to slow. One question I have is how is it possible that when the Chinese release their GDP estimates, the quarter-to-quarter movement is restricted to 0.1% increments? After all, elsewhere in the world, despite much lower headline numbers (remember China is allegedly growing at 6.5% while Europe is growing at 2.0% and the US at 3.5%), the month-to-month variability is much greater. Simple probability would anticipate that the variance in China’s data would be higher than in the rest of the world. My point is that, as in most things to do with China, we don’t really know what is happening there other than what they tell us and that is like relying on a pharmaceutical salesman to prescribe your medicine. There are several independent attempts ongoing to get a more accurate reading of GDP growth in China, with measures of electricity utilization or copper imports seen as key data that is difficult to manipulate, but they all remain incomplete. And it seems highly unlikely that President Xi, who has been focused on improving the economic lot of his country, will ever admit that the growth figures are being manipulated. But I remain skeptical of pretty much all the data that they provide.

At any rate, the impact on the renminbi continues to be modestly negative, with the dollar touching another new high for the move, just below 6.9800, in the overnight session. This very gradual weakening trend seems to be the PBOC’s plan for now, perhaps in order to make a move through 7.00 appear less frightening if it happens very slowly. I expect that it will continue for the foreseeable future especially as long as the Fed remains on track to tighten policy further while the PBOC searches for more ways to ease policy without actually cutting interest rates. Look for another reserve requirement ratio cut before the end of the year as well as a 7 handle on USDCNY.

Turning to the euro, data this morning showed that Signor Draghi has a bit of a challenge ahead of him. Eurozone inflation rose to 2.2% with the core reading rising to 1.1%, both slightly firmer than expected. The difference continues to be driven by energy prices, but the concern comes from the fact that GDP growth in the Eurozone slowed more than expected last quarter. Facing a situation where growth is slowing and inflation rising is every central banker’s nightmare scenario, as the traditional remedies for each are exactly opposite policies. And while the fluctuations are hardly the stuff of a disaster, the implication is that Europe may be reaching its growth potential at a time when interest rates remain negative and QE is still extant. The risk is that the removal of those policies will drive the Eurozone back into a much slower growth scenario, if not a recession, while inflation continues to creep higher. It is data of this nature, as well as the ongoing political dramas, that inform my views that the ECB will maintain easier policy for far longer than the market currently believes. And this is why I remain bearish on the euro.

Yesterday the pound managed to trade to its lowest level since the post-Brexit vote period, but it has bounced a bit this morning, +0.35%. That said, the trend remains lower for the pound. We are now exactly five months away from Brexit and there is still no resolution for the Irish border issue. Every day that passes increases the risk that there will be no deal, which will certainly have a decidedly negative impact on the UK economy and the pound by extension. Remember, too, that even if the negotiators agree a deal, it still must be ratified by 28 separate parliaments, which will be no easy task in the space of a few months. As long as this is the trajectory, the risk of a sharp decline in the pound remains quite real. Hedgers take note.

Elsewhere, the BOJ met last night and left policy unchanged as they remain no closer to achieving their 2.0% inflation goal today than they were five years ago when they started this process. However, the market has become quite accustomed to the process and as such, the yen is unchanged this morning. At this time, yen movement will be dictated by the interplay between risk scenarios and the Fed’s rate hike trajectory. Yen remains a haven asset, and in periods of extreme market stress is likely to perform well, but at the same time, as the interest rate differential increasingly favors the dollar, yen strength is likely to be moderated. In other words, it is hard to make a case for a large move in either direction in the near term.

Away from those three currencies, the dollar appears generally firmer, but movement has not been large. Turning to the data front, yesterday’s releases showed that home prices continue to ebb slightly in the US while Consumer Confidence remains high. This morning brings the first inklings of the employment situation with the ADP report (exp 189K) and then Chicago PMI (60.0) coming at 9:45. Equity futures are pointing higher as the market looks to build on yesterday’s modest rally. All the talk remains about how October has been the worst month in equity markets all year, but in the broad scheme of things, I would contend that, at least in the US, prices remain elevated compared to traditional valuation benchmarks like P/E ratios. At any rate, it seems unlikely that either of today’s data points will drive much FX activity, meaning that the big trend of a higher dollar is likely to dominate, albeit in a gradual fashion.

Good luck
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For How Long?

The US economy’s strong
Denial of this would be wrong
It’s not too surprising
That rates will be rising
The question is just, for how long?

Despite the Trump administration’s recent discussion of imposing 25% tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese imports, rather than the 10% initially mooted, the Fed looked at the economic landscape and concluded that things continue apace. While they didn’t adjust rates yesterday, as was universally expected, the policy statement was quite positive, highlighting the strength in both economic growth and the labor market, while pointing out that inflation is at their objective of 2.0%. Market expectations for a September rate hike increased slightly, with futures traders now pricing in a nearly 90% probability. More interestingly, despite the increased trade rhetoric, those same traders have increased their expectations for a December hike as well, with that number now hovering near 70%. At this point, despite President Trump’s swipe at higher rates last week, it appears that the Fed is continuing to blaze its rate-hiking path undeterred.

The consequences of the Fed’s stance are starting to play out more clearly now, with the dollar once again benefitting from expectations of higher short term rates, and equity markets around the world, but especially in APAC, feeling the heat. The chain of events continues in the following manner. Higher US rates have led to a stronger US dollar, especially vs. many emerging market currencies. The companies in those countries impacted are those that borrowed heavily in USD over the past ten years when US rates were near zero. They now find themselves struggling to repay and refinance that debt. Repayment is impacted because their local revenues buy fewer dollars while refinancing is impacted by the fact that US rates are that much higher. With this cycle in mind, it should not be surprising that equity markets elsewhere in the world are struggling. And those struggles don’t even include the potential knock-on effects of further US tariff increases. Quite frankly, it appears that this trend has further to run.

Meanwhile, the week’s central bank meetings are coming to a close with this morning’s BOE decision, where they are widely touted to raise the Base rate by 25bps, up to 0.75%. It is actually quite amusing to read some of the UK headlines talking about the BOE raising rates to the ‘highest in a decade’, which while strictly true, seems to imply so much more than the reality of still exceptionally low interest rates. However, given the ongoing uncertainty due to the Brexit situation, I continue to believe that Governor Carney is extremely unlikely to raise rates again this year, and if we are headed to a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, which I believe is increasingly likely, UK rates will head back lower again. Early this morning the UK Construction PMI data printed at a better than expected 55.8, its highest since late 2016, but despite the strong data and rate expectations, the pound has fallen 0.35% on the day.

Other currency movement has been similar, with the euro down 0.35%, Aussie and Kiwi both falling more than 0.5% and every other G10 currency, save the yen declining. The yen has rallied slightly, 0.2%, as interest rates in Japan continue to respond to Tuesday’s BOJ policy tweaks. JGB’s seem to have quickly found a new home above the old 0.10% ceiling, and there is now a growing expectation that as the 10-year yield there approaches the new 0.2% cap, the longer end of the JGB curve will rise with it taking the 30-year JGB to 1.00%. While that may not seem like much to the naked eye, when considering the nature of international flows, it is potentially quite important. The reason stems from the fact that Japanese institutional investors tend to hedge the FX exposure that comes from foreign fixed income purchases thus reducing their net yield from the higher rates received overseas to something on the order of 1.0%. And if the Japanese 30-year reaches that 1.0% threshold (it is currently yielding 0.83%), there is a growing expectation that those same investors will sell Treasuries and other bonds and bring the money home. That will have two impacts. First, I would be far less concerned over an inverting yield curve in the US as yields across the back end of the US curve would rise on those sales, and second, the dollar would likely rally overall on higher rates, but decline further against the yen. These are the type of background flows that impact the FX market, but may not be obvious to most hedgers.

Turning to the emerging markets, the dollar is firmer against virtually all of these currencies as well. One of the biggest movers has been CNY, falling 0.5% and now trading at its weakest level since May 2017. The renminbi’s decline has been impressive since mid-April, clocking in at nearly 9%, and clearly offsetting some of the impact of the recent tariffs. But remember, the renminbi’s decline began well before any tariffs were in place, and has as much to do with a slowing Chinese economy forcing monetary policy ease in China as with the recent trade spat. At this point, capital outflows have not yet become a problem there, but if history is any guide, as we get closer to 7.00, we are likely to see more pressure on the system as both individuals and companies seek to get their money out of China and into a stronger currency. I expect that there are more fireworks in store here.

Aside from China, the usual suspects continue to fall, with TRY having blasted through 5.00 overnight and now down 1.5% on the day. But we have also seen significant weakness in ZAR (-1.75%), KRW (-1.15%), and MXN (-0.75%). Even INR is down 0.5% despite the RBI having raised rates 0.25% overnight to try to rein in rising inflation pressures there. So today’ story is clear, the dollar remains in the ascendancy on the back of optimism in the US vs. increasing pessimism elsewhere in the world.

A quick peek at today’s data shows that aside from the weekly Initial Claims (exp 220K) we see only Factory Orders (0.7%). Yesterday’s ADP Employment data was quite strong, rising 219K, while the ISM Manufacturing report fell to a still robust 58.1, albeit a larger fall than expected. However, given the Fed’s upbeat outlook, the market was able to shake off the news. At this point, however, I expect that eyes are turning toward tomorrow’s NFP report, which will be seen as taking a much more accurate reading on the economy. All in all, I see no reason for the dollar to give back its recent gains, and in fact, expect that modest further strength is in the cards.

Good luck
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Percent Twenty-Five

The story, once more’s about trade
As Trump, a new threat, has conveyed
Percent twenty-five
This fall may arrive
Lest progress in trade talks is made

President Trump shook things up yesterday by threatening 25% tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese imports unless a trade deal can be reached. This is up from the initial discussion of a 10% tariff on those goods, and would almost certainly have a larger negative impact on GDP growth while pushing inflation higher in both the US and China, and by extension the rest of the world. It appears that the combination of strong US growth and already weakening Chinese growth, has led the President to believe he is in a stronger position to obtain a better deal. Not surprisingly the Chinese weren’t amused, loudly claiming they would not be blackmailed. In the background, it appears that efforts to restart trade talks between the two nations have thus far been unsuccessful, although those efforts continue.

Clearly, this is not good news for the global economy, nor is it good news for financial markets, which have no way to determine just how big an impact trade ructions are going to have on equities, currencies, commodities and interest rates. In other words, things are likely more uncertain now than in more ‘normal’ times. And that means that market volatility across markets is likely to increase. After all, not only is there the potential for greater surprises, but the uncertainty prevailing has reduced liquidity overall as many investors and traders hew to the sidelines until they have a better idea of what to do. And, of course, it is August 1st, a period where summer vacations leave trading desks with reduced staffing levels and so liquidity is generally less robust in any event.

Moving past trade brings us straight to the central bank story, where the relative hawkishness or dovishnes of yesterday’s BOJ announcement continues to be debated. There are those who believe it was a stealth tightening, allowing higher 10-year yields (JGB yields rose 8bps last night to their highest level in more than 18 months) and cutting in half the amount of reserves subject to earning -0.10%. And there are those who believe the increased flexibility and addition of forward guidance are signals that the BOJ is keen to ease further. Yesterday’s price action in USDJPY clearly favored the doves, as the yen fell a solid 0.8% in the session. But there has been no follow-through this morning.

As to the other G10 currencies, the dollar is modestly firmer against most of them this morning in the wake of PMI data from around the world showing that the overall growth picture remains mixed, but more troubling, the trend appears to be continuing toward slower growth.

The emerging market picture is similar, with the dollar performing reasonably well this morning, although, here too, there are few outliers. The most notable is KRW, which has fallen 0.75% overnight despite strong trade data as inflation unexpectedly fell and views of an additional rate hike by the BOK dimmed. However, beyond that, modest dollar strength was the general rule.

At this point in the session, the focus will turn to some US data including; ADP Employment (exp 185K), ISM Manufacturing (59.5) and its Prices Paid indicator (75.8), before the 2:00pm release of the FOMC statement as the Fed concludes its two day meeting. As there is no press conference, and the Fed has not made any changes to policy without a press conference following the meeting in years, I think it is safe to say there is a vanishingly small probability that anything new will come from the meeting. The statement will be heavily parsed, but given that we heard from Chairman Powell just two weeks ago, and the biggest data point, Q2 GDP, was released right on expectations, it seems unlikely that they will make any substantive changes.

It feels far more likely that this meeting will have been focused on technical questions about how future Fed policies will be enacted. Consider that QE has completely warped the old framework, where the Fed would actually adjust reserves in order to drive interest rates. Now, however, given the trillions of dollars of excess reserves, they can no longer use that strategy. The question that has been raised is will they try to go back to the old way, or is the new, much larger balance sheet going to remain with us forever. For hard money advocates, I fear the answer will not be to their liking, as it appears increasingly likely that QE is with us to stay. Of course, since this is a global phenomenon, I expect the impact on the relative value of any one currency is likely to be muted. After all, if everybody has changed the way they manage their economy in the same manner, then relative values are unlikely to change.

Flash, ADP Employment prints at a better than expected 219K, but the initial dollar impact is limited. Friday’s NFP report is of far more interest, but for today, all eyes will wait for the Fed. I expect very limited movement in the dollar ahead of then, and afterwards to be truthful.

Good luck
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Is That Despair?

Forward guidance is
Kuroda-san’s newest hope
Or is that despair?

The BOJ has committed to keep the current extremely low levels for short- and long-term interest rates for an “extended period of time.” Many of you will recognize this phrase as Ben Bernanke’s iteration of forward guidance. This is the effort by central banks to explain to the market that even though rates cannot seemingly go any lower, they promise to prevent them from going higher for the foreseeable future. Alas, forward guidance is akin to Hotel California, from which, as The Eagles famously sang back in 1976, “you can check out but you can never leave.” As the Fed found out, and the ECB will learn once they finally end QE (assuming they actually do so), changing tack once you have promised zero rates forever can have market ramifications. The first indication that forward guidance might be a problem came with the ‘taper tantrum’ in 2013, but I’m confident it won’t be the last.

However, for the BOJ, now trumps the future, and they needed to do something now. But forward guidance was not the only thing they added last night. It was the cover for their attempts to adjust policy without actually tightening. So, yield curve control now has a +/- 20bp range around 0.0% for the 10-year JGB, double the previous level, and thus somewhat more flexible. And they reduced the amount of reserves subject to the -0.10% deposit rate in order to alleviate some of the local banks’ profit issues. In the end, their commitment to maintaining zero interest rates for that extended period of time was sufficient for FX traders to sell the yen (it fell -0.40%), and JGB yields actually fell a few bps, closing at 0.065%, which is down from 0.11% ahead of the meeting. All in all, I guess the BOJ did a good job last night.

There is, however, one other thing to mention, and that is they reduced their own inflation forecasts (to 1.1% in 2019, 1.5% in 2020 and 1.6% in 2021) for the next three years, indicating that even they don’t expect to achieve that elusive 2.0% target before 2022 at the earliest. In the end, the BOJ will continue to buy JGB’s and equity ETF’s and unless there is a substantial acceleration in global growth, (something which seems increasingly unlikely) they will continue to miss their inflation target for a very long time. As to the yen, I expect that while it fell a bit last night, it is still likely to drift higher over time.

In Europe the story is still
That growth there is starting to chill
The data last night
Did naught to delight
Poor Mario, testing his will

Beyond the BOJ, and ahead of the FOMC announcement tomorrow, the major news was from the Eurozone where GDP and Inflation data was released. What we learned was that, on the whole, growth continued to slow while inflation edged higher than expected. Eurozone GDP rose 0.3% in Q2, its slowest pace in a year, while headline inflation rose 2.1%, its fastest rate since early 2013. Of course the latter was predicated on higher energy prices with core CPI rising only 1.1%, still a long way from the ECB’s target. The point is that given the slowing growth trajectory in the Eurozone, it seems that Draghi’s confidence in faster growth causing inflation to pick up on the continent may be unwarranted. But that remains the official line, and it appears that the FX market has accepted it as gospel as the euro has traded higher for a third consecutive day (+0.3%) and is now back in the top half of its trading range. If Q3 growth continues the trajectory that Q2 has extended, it will call into question whether the ECB can stop buying bonds, or at the very least, just how long rates will remain at -0.4%, with those looking for a September 2019 rate hike sure to be disappointed.

There is one country in Europe, however, that is performing well, Sweden. GDP growth there surprised the market yesterday, rising 1.0% in Q2 and 3.3% Y/Y. This has encouraged speculation that the Riksbank will be raising rates fairly soon and supported the krone, which has rallied 1.0% since the announcement.

The final piece of news to discuss from last night was from China, where the PMI readings all fell below expectations. The official Manufacturing data was released at 51.2, down from last month’s 51.5 and the third consecutive monthly decline. The non-manufacturing number fell to 54.0, its weakest print since October 2016. These are the first data from China that include the impact of the US tariffs, and so are an indication that the Chinese economy is feeling some effects. I expect that the government there will add more stimulus to offset any more severe impact, but that will simply further complicate their efforts at reducing excess leverage in the economy. Meanwhile, the renminbi slid 0.25% overnight.

This morning’s data releases bring us Personal Income (exp 0.4%), Personal Spending (0.4%) and PCE (2.3% headline, 2.0% core), as well as the Case-Shiller Home price index (6.4%), Chicago PMI (62.0) and Consumer Confidence (126.0). In other words, there is much for us to learn about the economy. While I believe the PCE data could be market moving, especially if it is stronger than expected, I continue to believe that traders and investors remain far more focused on Friday’s payroll report than this data. Recent weakness in equity markets has some folks on edge, although futures this morning look benign. But if we do see that weakness continue, the chances of a full-blown risk off scenario materializing will grow substantially. And that means, the dollar has the potential to rally quite sharply. Keep that in mind as a tail risk, one where the tail grows fatter each day that equity markets disappoint.

Good luck
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Still At Its Peak

Three central bank meetings this week
Seem unlikely, havoc to wreak
When they all adjourn
Attention will turn
To joblessness, still at its peak

In the current central bank calendric cycle, the ECB meeting was the first to be completed, and last Thursday we learned virtually nothing new about Mario Draghi’s plans. The ECB is going to reduce QE further starting in October and is due to end it completely by year end. As to interest rates, ‘through summer’ remains the watchword, with markets forecasting a 10bp rate rise in either September or October of next year.

This week brings us the other three big central bank meetings, starting with the BOJ’s announcement tomorrow evening, then the FOMC on Wednesday and finally the BOE on Thursday. Going in reverse order, the market remains convinced that Governor Carney will raise rates 25bps, with a more than 80% probability priced in by futures traders. While I think it is a mistake, it does seem increasingly likely it will be the outcome. As to the Fed, there are no expectations of any policy adjustments at this meeting, and as there is no press conference following, I expect that the statement, when released Wednesday afternoon, will have little market impact.

This takes us to tomorrow evening’s BOJ meeting, which is the only one where there seems to be any real uncertainty. Last week I discussed the questions at hand which boil down to whether or not Kuroda and company have come to believe that QQE is not only ineffective, but actually beginning to have a detrimental impact on the Japanese economy. After all, they have been at it for the better part of five years and have still had zero success in achieving their 2.0% inflation goal. The three biggest problems are that Japanese banks have seen their business models decimated by increasingly narrow lending spreads; the ETF purchase program has had an increasingly large distortive impact on the Japanese stock markets as the BOJ now owns roughly 4% of all Japanese equities; and finally, the yield curve control plan has essentially broken the JGB market as evidenced by the fact that they continue to see sessions where there are actually no trades in the 10-year JGB. (Consider what would happen if there were no trades in 10-year Treasuries one day!)

With all of this as baggage, there has been increasing discussion that the BOJ may seek to tweak the program to try to make it more effective. However, they have painted themselves into a corner because if they reduce their activity in the JGB market, the market is likely to see it as a reduced commitment to QE and it is likely to result in higher yields there, which can easily lead to two separate but related outcomes. First, USDJPY is likely to fall further, as higher JGB yields lead to more interest for Japanese investors to bring their funds home. Given the disinflationary impact of a stronger currency, this would be a disaster. And second, if there is less support for JGB’s, given the fungibility of money and the open capital markets that exist, we are likely to see yields rise in US, UK, European and other developed markets. While Chairman Powell may welcome this as it will reduce concern over the Fed inverting the yield curve, the rest of the world, which retains far easier monetary policy, is likely to be somewhat less welcoming of that outcome. And this is all based on anonymous reports that the BOJ is going to make some technical adjustments to their program, not change the nature of what they are doing. So if you are looking for some fireworks this week, the BOJ is your best bet.

However, beyond the central banks, the market will turn its attention to Friday’s employment report here in the US. Last Friday saw a robust GDP report, as widely expected, and further proof of the divergence between the US and the rest of the global economy. This Friday could simply add to that impression. Here is the full listing of this week’s data, which is quite robust:

Tuesday BOJ Rate Decision -0.10% (unchanged)
  Personal Income 0.4%
  Personal Spending 0.4%
  PCE 0.1% (2.3% Y/Y)
  Core PCE 0.1% (2.0% Y/Y)
  Case-Shiller Home Prices 6.4%
  Chicago PMI 62.0
Wednesday ADP Employment 185K
  ISM Manufacturing 59.5
  ISM Prices Paid 75.8
  FOMC Rate Decision 2.00% (unchanged)
Thursday BOE Rate Decision 0.75% (+0.25%)
  Initial Claims 221K
  Factory Orders 0.7%
Friday Nonfarm Payrolls 190K
  Private Payrolls 185K
  Manufacturing Payrolls 22K
  Unemployment Rate 3.9%
  Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (2.7% Y/Y)
  Average Weekly Hours 34.5
  Trade Balance -$46.2B
  ISM Non-Manufacturing 58.7

So, as you can see there is much to be learned this week. With the focus on the central banks and Friday’s payroll data, don’t lose sight of tomorrow’s PCE report, because remember, that is the Fed’s go-to number on inflation. Overall, looking at forecasts, things remain remarkably strong in the US economy this long into an expansion, which is something that has many folks concerned. We also continue to see important corporate earnings releases this week for Q2, which given the high profile misses we had last week, could well impact markets beyond individual equity names.

As to the dollar through all this, it is a touch softer this morning, but remains on the strong side of its recent trading range. While I still like it higher, there is so much potential new information coming this week, it is probably wisest to remain as neutral as possible for now. For hedgers, that means the 50% rule is in effect.

Good luck
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A Rate Hike’s in Store

Said Mario Draghi once more
‘Through summer’ a rate hike’s in store
When pressed on the timing
That they’d end pump priming
He gave no more scoop than before

As we await this morning’s Q2 US GDP data (exp 4.1%), it’s a good time to review yesterday’s activity and why the euro has given up the ground it gained during the past week. The ECB left policy on hold, which was universally expected. However, many pundits were looking for a more insightful press conference regarding the timeline that the ECB has in mind regarding the eventual raising of interest rates. Alas, they were all disappointed. Draghi continues to use the term ‘through summer’ without defining exactly what that means. It appears that the uncertainty is whether it means a September 2019 hike or an October 2019 hike. To this I have to say, “are they nuts?” The idea that the ECB has such a precise decision process is laughable. The time in question is more than twelve months away, and there is so much that can happen between now and then it cannot be listed.

Consider that just six months ago, Eurozone growth was widely expected to continue the pace it had demonstrated in 2017, which was why the dollar was weak and falling. But instead, despite a large majority of forecasts pointing to great things in Europe, growth there weakened sharply while growth in the US leapt forward. So here we are now, six months later, with the dollar significantly stronger and a new narrative asking why Eurozone growth has disappointed while US growth is exploding higher. Of course the US story is blamed based on the tax changes and increased fiscal stimulus from the budget bill. But in Europe, we have heard about bad weather, a flu epidemic and, more recently, rising oil prices, but certainly nothing that explains the underlying disappointment. And that was only a six-month window! Why would anyone expect the ECB, who are notoriously bad forecasters, to have any idea what will happen, with precision, in fourteen months’ time?

However, that seems to have been the driving force yesterday, lack of confirmation on the timing of the ECB’s initial rate hike next year. And based on the French GDP data this morning (0.2%, below expectations of 0.3% and far below last year’s 0.7% quarterly average), it seems that growth expectations for the Eurozone may well be missed again. Personally, I am not convinced that the ECB will raise rates at all in 2019. Given the recent trajectory of growth in the Eurozone, it appears we have already seen the top, and that before we get ‘through summer’ next year, the discussion may turn to how the ECB are going to help support the economy with further QE. Given this reality, it should be no surprise that the euro suffered yesterday, and in the wake of the weak French data, that it is still lower this morning, albeit only by an additional 0.15%.

Elsewhere the pound fell yesterday after the EU rejected, out of hand, PM May’s solution for the UK to collect tariffs on behalf of the EU. That basically destroyed her attempt to find a middle ground between the Brexiteers and the Bremainers, and now calls into question her ability to remain in office. In fact, she is running out of time to come up with a deal that has a chance of getting implemented. The current belief is that if they do not agree on something by the October EU meeting, there will not be sufficient time for all 29 members to approve any deal. It is with this in mind that I continue to question the BOE’s concerns over slowing inflation. My gut tells me that if they do raise rates next week, it will need to be reversed by the November meeting after the Brexit situation spirals out of control. The pound fell 0.65% yesterday and is down a further 0.1% this morning. That remains the trend.

Another noteworthy event from Tokyo occurred last night as the BOJ was forced to intervene in the JGB market for the second time this week, bidding for an unlimited amount of bonds at 0.10% in the 5-10 year sector. And this time, they bought ~$74 billion worth. Speculation remain rife that they are going to adjust their QQE program next week, but given the fact that it has been singularly unsuccessful in achieving its aim of raising inflation to 2.0% (currently CPI there is running at 0.2%), this appears to be a serious capitulation. If they change policy without any success behind them, the market is likely to aggressively buy the yen. USDJPY is down 1.7% in the past six sessions, and while it rallied slightly yesterday, it seems to me that USDJPY lower is the most likely future outcome.

Yesterday morning’s overall dollar malaise reversed during the US session and has carried over to this morning’s trade. And while most movement so far this morning is modest, averaging in the 0.1%-0.2% range, it is nearly universally in favor of the buck.

This morning brings the aforementioned GDP data as well as Michigan Sentiment (exp 97.1, down a full point from last month), although the former will be the key number to watch. Yesterday’s equity market session was broadly able to shake off the poor earnings forecast of a major tech firm, and this morning has a different FANG member knocking it out of the park. My point is that risk aversion is not high, so this dollar strength remains fundamental. At this point, I look for the dollar to continue to benefit from the current broad narrative of diverging monetary policy, and expect that we will need to see some particularly weak US data to change that story.

Good luck and good weekend
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Twixt Juncker and Trump

The meeting today in DC
Twixt Juncker and Trump will be key
In helping determine
If cars that are German
Are hit with a new import fee

Markets overnight have been relatively muted as today’s big story revolves around EU President Jean-Claude Juncker’s meeting with President Tump in Washington. The agenda is focused on tariffs and trade as Juncker seeks to de-escalate the current trade policy differences. At this point, while most market participants would love to see signs that the US is backing off its recent threats, and that progress is made in adjusting the terms of trade, I don’t sense that there is a lot of optimism that will be the case. Remarkably, the US equity market has been able to virtually ignore the trade story, with only a few individual companies suffering due to direct impacts from the situation (or poor quarterly numbers), but that has not been true elsewhere in the world. Other equity markets have fared far worse in the wake of the trade battle, and I see no reason for those prospects to improve until there is a resolution. At the same time, while the dollar has fallen from its highs seen early last week, it remains significantly stronger than it was three months ago. In fact, during the recent escalation in Presidential rhetoric, while we saw a reaction last Friday, the reality is that there has been little overall movement.

While the value of the dollar clearly has an impact on trade, historically the reverse has been far less clear. In other words, although there have been knee-jerk reactions to a particular trade number that missed expectations, or similar to Friday’s movement, knee-jerk reactions to political statements about trade policy, generally speaking, trade’s impact on the dollar has been very hard to discern. Several months ago I highlighted the tension between short-term and long-term drivers of the dollar. On the short-term side, which is what I believe has been dominant this year, is monetary policy and interest rate differentials. These have clearly been moving aggressively in the dollar’s favor. On the long-term side is the US’ fiscal account, namely its current account deficit and trade deficit. Economic theory tells us that a country that runs significant deficits in these accounts will see its currency decline over time in order to help balance things. In fact, this has been the crux of the view that the dollar will fall in the long run. However, given the US’ unique situation as the global reserve currency, and the fact that so much global trade is priced in dollars as opposed to other currencies, there remains an underlying demand for dollars that is not likely to disappear anytime soon.

The point here is that if the current trade situation deteriorates further, with additional tariffs imposed on all sides, and growth slows correspondingly, it is still not clear to me that the dollar will suffer. In fact, most other countries will seek to weaken their own currencies in order to offset the tariffs, which means the dollar will likely continue to outperform. In other words, in addition to the US monetary policy benefit, it seems likely that the dollar will be the beneficiary of policy adjustments elsewhere designed to weaken other currencies. And ironically, in the current political situation, that is only likely to generate even more Presidential rhetoric on the subject. Quite frankly, I feel the dollar has potentially much further to climb as long as trade is the topic du jour.

Of course, that doesn’t mean it will rally ever day. In fact, today the dollar is very modestly softer vs. most of its counterparts. The biggest gainer has been CNY, which is firmer by 0.55% overnight, as China appears very interested in calming things down. But away from that move, most currency gains have been on the order of 0.1% or so. The most notable data overnight was the German IFO report, which declined for the eighth consecutive month and is now back to levels last seen in March 2017. While the ECB continues to look ahead to the ending of their extraordinary monetary policy, the economy does not seem to be cooperating with their views of a sustainable recovery. While I think there is very little chance that the ECB changes its stance on bond buying, meaning come December, they will be done, it remains an open question as to when they might start to raise rates. This is especially true given the potential for an escalating trade conflict between the US and the EU resulting in slower growth on both sides of the Atlantic. If that is the case, the ECB will have a much harder time normalizing policy. At this time, however, it is still way too early to make any determinations, and I suspect that tomorrow’s ECB meeting will give us very little new information.

Meanwhile, the market is still extremely focused on the BOJ meeting early next week, with varying views as to the potential for any policy shifts there. What does seem clear is there has at least been discussion of the timing of ending QE, but no decisions have been made. The problem for the BOJ is that after more than five years of aggressive bond buying, not only have they broken the JGB market, but they have not been able to achieve anywhere near the results they had sought. Given that the BOJ balance sheet is now essentially the same size as the Japanese economy (for comparison, in the US despite its remarkable growth during QE, it remains ~20% of the US economy), there are growing concerns that current policy may be doing more harm than good. Apparently there are limits to just how much a central bank can do to address inflation. As to the yen, if the market perception turns to the BOJ stepping back from constant injections of funds, it is very likely that the yen will find itself in great demand and USDJPY will fall steadily. I maintain my view that 100.00 is a viable target for the end of the year.

Today brings just New Home Sales data (exp 670K, a 2.8% decline from last month) but this is generally not a key figure for markets. Rather, today’s price action will be dependent on the outcome of the Trump-Juncker meeting and whatever comments follow at the press conference. A conciliatory tone by President Trump would almost certainly result in a stock market rally and modest dollar strength. Continued combativeness is likely to see stocks under pressure and the dollar, at least initially, falling as well.

Good luck
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Tired

Speculation’s rife
Kuroda is tired of
JGB support

For the fifth consecutive session, the Japanese yen is rising amid growing speculation that the BOJ, when it meets next Monday and Tuesday, is going to adjust monetary policy tighter. During that run, which also included President Trump’s harangues on currency manipulation around the world, the yen has strengthened nearly 2%. My point is that the dollar has suffered somewhat overall during that period, so this movement is not entirely due to the BOJ story. But, as the meeting approaches, that is becoming the hottest topic in the market.

A quick look at the Japanese economy shows that inflation remains quiescent, with the latest core reading just 0.2%, a far cry from the 2.0% target the BOJ has been aiming for during the past five years. In addition, last night’s PMI data, (printing at 51.6, well below expectations of 53.2) has to give Kuroda and company pause as well. In other words, while Japan is not cratering, it doesn’t seem like there is any danger of overheating there either. However, with the Fed actively tightening, the BOE widely expected to raise rates in early August and the ECB highlighting its plans to end QE this year with interest rate increases to follow next year, the BOJ is clearly feeling somewhat left out of the mix. Apparently groupthink is a strong emotion for central bankers.

At any rate, whether justified or not, the story that is getting play is that they are going to tweak their operations, perhaps allowing (encouraging?) the long end of the JGB yield curve to see higher yields, although they will likely keep control of the 10-year space and below. But all the market needed to hear was that QE was going to be reduced and the reaction was immediate. JGB yields in the 10-year space jumped from 0.03% to 0.09%, at which point the BOJ stopped the movement by stepping in with an unlimited bid for bonds. Remember, they already own 42% of all outstanding JGB’s, and liquidity in that market is so thin that there have already been six days this year where there were absolutely zero trades in the 10-year JGB. The FX market was not going to be left out and seeing the prospect for less QE immediately added to the yen’s recent gains. It remains to be seen whether Kuroda-san will be able to actually implement any policy changes given the combination of slackening growth and still low inflation, especially with the prospects of a trade war having an even more deleterious impact on the economy. However, the market loves this story and is going to continue to run with it, at least until the BOJ announcement next Tuesday. So I would look for the yen to continue to trade slowly higher during that period.

The other big story overnight was the PBOC injection of CNY502 billion of liquidity into the market as part of their ongoing policy adjustments. It is becoming increasingly clear that the Chinese economy is having trouble dealing with the simultaneous deleveraging demanded by President Xi for the past two years and the increased trade issues that have arisen quite rapidly of late. Of course, the PBOC is no wallflower when it comes to taking action, and so having already cut reserve requirements three times this year; they decided that direct injection of funds into the market was a better method of achieving their goals. In addition the government created tax incentives for R&D, encouraged more state infrastructure spending and told banks to offer more credit to small firms. The market impact of these measures was immediate with the Shanghai Stock Exchange rallying 1.6% while the renminbi fell as much as 0.6% early, before retracing somewhat and now standing just 0.2% lower on the day.

When considering the CNY, the opposing forces are that a weaker yuan will certainly help support short-term growth due to the still significant reliance on exports by the Chinese economy. However, there is a feared tipping point at which a weak yuan may encourage significant capital outflows, thus destabilizing the Chinese economy and Chinese markets. We saw this play out three years ago, shortly after the PBOC surprised markets with its mini (2%) devaluation of the yuan. The ensuing global market sell-off was significant enough to prevent then Fed Chair Yellen to hold off on raising rates, despite having signaled that the Fed was ready to do so. However, it is not clear to me that Chairman Powell sees the world the same way as Yellen, and my take is that he would not be dissuaded from continuing the Fed’s current trajectory despite some increased global volatility. Of course, the Chinese instituted strict capital controls in the wake of the 2015 situation, so it is also not clear that the contagion can even occur this time. In the end, though, this is simply further evidence of the diverging monetary policies between the US and China, and continues to underpin my views of USDCNY moving to 7.00 and beyond before the year ends.

Away from those two stories, the dollar is modestly softer this morning despite mixed to weaker Eurozone PMI data (Germany strong, France weak, Eurozone weak), and US Treasury yields that gained nearly 10bps yesterday after the BOJ story broke. Yesterday saw weaker than expected Existing Home Sales (5.38M), which is the third consecutive monthly decline. While there is no important data today, we do see the critical first look at Q2 GDP on Friday, and of course, the ECB meets Thursday, so there is ample opportunity for more opinion changing information to come to market. But right now, the dollar remains largely trapped between the positive monetary policy story and the negative political story, and so I don’t anticipate it will be breaking out in either direction in the short run. However, as long as US monetary policy continues on its current trajectory, I believe the dollar has further to run. We have not yet evolved to a point where other issues are more important, although that time may well come in the future.

Good luck
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Trump’s Latest Tirade

There once was a time when men thought
That trade wars should never be fought
But that was back then
And now those same men
Think trade wars can help votes be bought

However, attacking free trade
By building a tariff blockade
Can open the doors
To currency wars
Just like in Trump’s latest tirade

Jerome Powell’s job got a LOT tougher on Friday, when President Trump not only reiterated his concern over the Fed raising rates and the impact it would have on the economy, (i.e. tapping on the brakes), but on the impact Fed policy is having on the dollar as it continues to rise. The President then called out China, Europe and Japan for manipulating their currencies lower and calling it unfair and a serious problem.

Now put yourself in Powell’s seat. Maintaining Fed independence, and any perceptions thereof is crucial. But so is managing monetary policy as he see’s fit. However, now that Trump has complained about rising US interest rates and the ongoing policy divergence we have seen over the past fifteen months, if the US economy slows and the Fed believes that a change in policy is appropriate, it may look like he is bending to the President’s will. At the same time, if he continues to raise rates because he believes that is appropriate, he will seemingly come under further pressure from the President. As I said, his job got a lot harder. One doesn’t have to be too cynical to believe that Powell and the Fed will continue to raise rates until the economy falters, at which point it will be clearly appropriate for the Fed to ease policy, and there will be no question of the Fed’s independence. Of course, purposely engineering a slowdown or recession doesn’t seem like such a wonderful idea either.

At the same time, the President has just created his fall guy for any bad outcomes in the economy. If things go bad, he blames the Fed and says, ‘I told you this would happen if they raised rates.’ And if everything continues with positive growth, he claims it’s his policies in spite of the Fed that is doing the job.

With that as the lay of the land, it should be no surprise that on the back of Trump’s discussion of currency manipulation, that the dollar fell sharply in Friday’s session. The dollar Index fell 0.75% with almost every major currency rallying. As the Asian session opens this evening, we are seeing some follow through in that price action, with the dollar index down a further 0.2%. JPY is leading the way higher, up 0.45%, but the movement remains widespread.

Interestingly, it appears that most of the punditry have decided that the dollar’s rally is now over. With the President now keen to see the dollar fall, that is what will happen. I, however, disagree with that assessment. At this point, as long as the interest rate divergence continues, I see no reason to believe that traders are going to change their tune. The carry available remains too great a temptation to ignore. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see the current level of dollar bullishness, as measured by open futures positions, rise over the next several weeks, as traders take advantage of the dollar’s short-term decline to add to positions at better levels. Until we start to see concrete changes in monetary policy (and there is no indication that any other country is going to tighten policy sooner than they otherwise would have), the dollar still holds all the cards. In fact, if the ongoing trade ructions lead to a more significant equity market correction, meaning risk is jettisoned, then the dollar will probably rise further. I will change my views when policy changes, but for now, I see this move as a temporary correction.

There is really no other story in the FX markets right now other than the evolution of the trade war into a currency war. While there will be some data this week, and the ECB meets Thursday, everything we hear will be in a response to Trump’s comments. The G20 arrived at no decisions, which can be no surprise, as they never do. However, all the talk is on the trade cum currency war that is brewing. At this point, given the ECB is not going to change anything, (perhaps they will refine their rate message more specifically, but I doubt it), it is headline roulette until the Fed meets next month. And even then, there is no expectation of a move until September, so really we are beholden to the headlines for now. I wish I could give more guidance than that, but let’s face it; nobody knows what will happen there.

Good luck
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Waiting For Jay

The markets are waiting for Jay
To testify later today
The hawks are excited
As they feel united
More hawkishness he will convey

Yesterday’s Retail Sales data was the latest data point highlighting the US economy’s continued robust expansion. The 0.5% headline gain matched expectations, but it was the revision higher of last month’s 0.8% reading (which if you recall was much higher than expectations then) to 1.3% that really got tongues wagging. Several analysts raised their expectations for Q2 GDP to above 5.0% in the wake of the report, although the market response seems somewhat puzzling. Both equity and bond markets yesterday were essentially flat, oil prices tumbled more than 4% and the dollar was slightly softer. Arguably, after robust data, one would have expected higher stocks, higher bond yields (lower prices) and a stronger dollar. This should serve to remind everyone that while trends remain in place, there is rarely a one-for-one reaction from data to market prices.

However, what the data does accomplish is paint a picture of a still quite strong economy as a backdrop to Chairman Powell’s testimony to the Senate Banking Committee later this morning. If we have learned one thing about Powell, it is that he is willing to use plain English to describe his views, rather than couch those views in the obfuscation of economic jargon. But perhaps far more importantly, he consistently reminds his audience that there are many important concepts (e.g. the neutral interest rate or the natural rate of unemployment, NAIRU) that are not observable and where the Fed relies on estimates from its models. And while these variables are seen as critical to the PhD set, Chairman Powell recognizes that they cannot be used to fine tune the economy. It is this trait that sets Powell apart from his recent predecessors, and I personally believe, in a good way. At any rate, while the prepared remarks are fairly neutral in tone, there is a growing belief that the Q&A is likely to lean hawkish when it comes to monetary policy questions. However, I imagine that there will also be a significant amount of preening by certain Senators when they lambaste the Fed’s actions regarding banks and the recent stress tests. In fact, my sense is that he will not get to speak too much about the economy, and as such, I don’t expect his testimony to have much market impact at all.

With that said, there is certainly nothing from the recent data that would indicate the Fed is about to slow down its tightening, and the market is now pricing a 62% probability of two more rate hikes this year. In the end, this remains dollar supportive in my view.

Moving on to another economy that seems to be getting ready to tighten policy, UK employment data was released this morning and it was quite strong yet again. The Unemployment Rate remained at its 42-year lows of 4.2%, as 137K more jobs were created in the past three months. Not only that, but Average Earnings at 2.7% continue to print above recent inflation, resulting in real wage gains and a further clue that the UK economy, despite the ongoing Brexit drama and uncertainty, remains fairly solid. Certainly the market expects Governor Carney to raise rates next month, with futures pricing in a greater than 80% probability at this time, and so we will have to see some much weaker data on Q2 GDP or inflation later this week to change that view. The pound has benefitted this morning, edging up a further 0.1%, which makes about 0.5% of gains over the past four sessions. Not that inspiring, but at least logical today.

Overall, the dollar is marginally lower this morning, although it is a mixed picture vs. individual currencies. For example, MXN is weaker by 0.7% on the back of the decline in oil prices with RUB similarly lower by 0.4%. However, other currencies have shown modest strength vs. the dollar, notably CHF, INR and NZD, each with their own idiosyncratic story. The point is there is no overriding theme in the FX market this morning.

One thing I think worth pointing out is that the yen has recently lost some of its safe haven luster. Ever since the financial crisis, the yen had become seen as a haven in the face of market turmoil, rallying when nervousness was evident. I have always thought that characterization misplaced. Prior to the crisis, being short yen to fund other assets was a hugely prevalent position, known as the carry trade. When those assets started to decline sharply during the crisis, all that we saw was those carry trades unwind, which, by definition, included yen purchases. Investors weren’t indicating they preferred yen to other assets; they were closing outstanding positions. But the haven narrative stuck and so we have lived with it for a decade now. Perhaps we are finally coming round to a period where that narrative will diminish, and old havens, notably the dollar and gold, will make a comeback. Certainly the dollar is holding up its end of the bargain overall, so my sense is that gold may not be too far behind if we see another market disruption. In the meantime, the yen has fallen 0.2% this morning and is actually trading back at its lowest level since early January. It would not be surprising to see further yen weakness over the coming months, especially if my thesis on the haven issue is true.

Before we hear from the Chairman, Capacity Utilization (exp 78.3%) and IP (0.6%) are to be released. However, unless something extraordinary prints there, I expect that markets will remain quiet until Powell starts. At that point, it is all up to him.

Good luck
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