Filled With Froth

Said Jay, markets seem filled with froth
But let me tell you, we are loth
To even discuss
The tapering fuss.
To ZIRP and QE we are troth

Now, ask yourself what markets heard
Jay cooed like his favorite white bird
So, dollars were sold
Investors bought gold
With equity bulls undeterred

The Chairman was very clear yesterday afternoon in his press conference, the Fed is not anywhere near thinking about changing their current policy mix.  While paying lip service to the idea that if inflation turns out not to be ‘transitory’ they have the tools to address it, the overwhelming belief in the Mariner Eccles Building appears to be that by autumn, inflation will be a thing of the past and the Fed will still have their foot on the proverbial accelerator.

This does raise the question that, if economic growth is rebounding so smartly, why does the Fed need to buy $120 billion of assets each month and maintain their policy rate at 0.00%?  While I am just an FX guy, it seems to me that the current policy stance is more appropriate for an apocalyptic economic crisis, something like we suffered last year or in 2008-9, rather than for an economy that is growing at 7.0% or more.  But that’s just me.  Clearly, Chairman Powell and his committee are concerned that the economy cannot continue to grow on its own, else they wouldn’t be doing what they are doing.

When it comes to the tapering of asset purchases, Powell was also explicit that it is not nearly time to consider the idea.  Yes, we had one good NFP number, but we need a string of them to convince the Fed that we are past the worst of things.  Remember, the opening two lines of the Fed statement continue to be about Covid.  “The Federal Reserve is committed to using its full range of tools to support the U.S. economy in this challenging time, thereby promoting its maximum employment and price stability goals.  The COVID-19 pandemic is causing tremendous human and economic hardship across the United States and around the world.”  Until such time as that statement changes, we don’t need to hear the press conference to know that nothing is going to change.

With this in mind, let us consider the potential impact on markets.  Starting with Treasuries, it seems reasonable to assume that yields are reflective of investors collective view on inflation going forward.  The Fed has been purchasing $120 billion / month since last June and is not about to change.  At this stage, it would appear the market has factored those purchases into the current yield.  This means, future movements are far more likely to be indicative of the evolving view on inflation.  Yesterday, after the press conference, 10-year yields slipped by 4bps, but this morning, they have recouped those losses and we currently sit at 1.65%.  With commodity prices clearly still on a massive roll (WTI +1.4%, Cu +0.8%), while the Fed is convinced that any inflation will be transitory, it is not obvious that the rest of the market agrees.  Powell said the Fed would need to see a string of strong data.  Well, next week the early expectations for NFP are 888K, which would be two very strong months in a row.  Is that a string?  Certainly, it’s a line.  But I doubt it will move the needle at the Fed.  Maximum employment is still a long way off, and there will be no changes until then.  As inflation readings climb, and they will, Treasury yields will continue to climb as well.  There is nothing magical about 1.75%, the level reached at the end of March, and I expect that by the end of Q2, we will be looking at 10-year yields close to, or above 2.0%.

If Treasury yields are at 2.0%, what happens to equity markets?  In this case, it is not as clear cut as one might think.  First off, this Fed clearly has a different reaction function to data than previous iterations as they have been explicit that pre-emptive tightening to prevent potential future inflation is not going to happen.  This implies that any rise in yields is not reflective of expected Fed policy changes, but rather as a response to rising inflationary pressures.  History has shown that when inflation rises but stays below 3.0%, equity markets can remain buoyant, but once that threshold has been breached, it is a different story.  Remember, especially in the tech sector, but in truth quite generally, the reason low rates boost the stock market is because any discount cash flow model, when discounting at ultra-low rates means current values should be higher.  This is why rising yields become a problem for equity prices. In fact, it is reasonable to analogize being long growth stocks to being long bond duration, so when bond prices fall and yields rise accordingly the same thing happens to those stocks.  If this relationship holds going forward, and inflationary concerns do continue to percolate in the market, it would appear equity prices could be in for a bumpy ride.

Clearly, that is not yet the case (after all, inflation hasn’t yet reared its ugly head), as evidenced by the overnight price action in the wake of Powell’s comments.  Asia was strong (Nikkei +0.2%, Hang Seng +0.8%, Shanghai +0.5%) and most of Europe is as well (CAC +0.55%, FTSE 100 +0.7%) although the German DAX (-0.25%) is a bit of a laggard this morning as concerns over Q1 GDP rise due to the third Covid wave.  US futures, though, are all-in with Jay, rising between 0.5% (Dow) and 1.0% (NASDAQ).  That makes sense given the assurances that there will be no tapering forever the foreseeable future.

As to the dollar, there are two different narratives at odds here.  On the one hand, the fundamentalists continue to point to a weaker dollar in the future as rising inflation tends to devalue a currency, and when combined with the massive fiscal deficit policy, a dollar decline becomes the only outlet available for pressure on the economy.  On the other hand, rising yields tend to support the dollar, so as Treasury yields continue to rise, if they stay ahead of the inflation statistics, there is reason to believe that the dollar has further to gain from here.  Of course, if inflation outstrips the rise in nominal yields such that real yields decline, we could easily have a situation with higher nominal Treasury yields and a much weaker dollar.  For now, the inflation data is lagging the Treasury market, but I suspect that by the end of May, that will not be the case, meaning the long-awaited dollar decline has a much better chance to get started then.

In the meantime, the dollar has softened ever so slightly this morning.  Versus G10 currencies, only JPY (-0.25%) has declined as the rebound in Treasury yields this morning seems to be garnering interest in the Japanese investment community.  But, while the dollar is softer vs. everything else, nothing has even moved 0.2%, which implies there is no news beyond the Fed.  In the EMG space, the dollar is also largely softer, led by HUF (+0.5%), THB (+0.45%) and INR (+0.45%).  HUF continues to benefit from the relatively hawkish stance of the central bank, while the baht rallied despite a reduction in the 2021 GDP estimate to 2.3% as Covid infections increase in the nation.  Meanwhile, INR appears to be the beneficiary of the Fed’s stance as clearly, the ongoing domestic disaster regarding its response to the latest wave of Covid infections cannot be seen as a positive.

On the data front, we start with Initial Claims (exp 540K) and Continuing Claims (3.59M) but also see the first look at Q1 GDP (6.6%), with a range of estimates from 4.5% to 10.0%!  With the Fed meeting behind us, we should start to hear from FOMC members again, but today only has Governor Quarles discussing financial regulation, a much drier subject than inflation.  Tomorrow, however, we will see the latest Core PCE data, and that has the chance to move things around.

As of now, the dollar remains on its back foot given the Fed’s clear message that tapering is a long way off and easy money is here for now.  However, if Treasury yields start to rise further, especially if they get back toward the 1.75% level, I expect the dollar will rebound.  On the other hand, if Treasuries remain quiet, the dollar probably has further to fall.

Good luck and stay safe

Nothing to Fear

There is an old banker named Jay
Who, later, this St Patrick’s Day
Will tell us that rates
Right here in the States
Won’t change ‘til the jobless get pay

Inflation is nothing to fear
As there’s no sign it will appear
But should it arise
More tools he’ll devise
To kill it by end of this year

Welcome to Fed day folks, with the eyes of all market participants anxiously awaiting the stilted prose that is presented every six weeks.  At this point, there is no concern that the Fed is going to actually change policy as it stands, rather the anticipation is all about what they imply about the future path of activity.

Generally, the Fed statement will start off discussing the nature of the economy and their subjective assessment before going on to describe the actions they are taking.  As this is a quarter-end meeting, their team of PhD’s will have produced new economic forecasts, which based on the recently passed stimulus bill, as well as the recent trend of improving economic activity, is likely to highlight real GDP growth in 2021 of at least 5.0%.  There are many calls on the Street for growth rates topping 7% this year, so 5% would hardly be seen as aggressive.  In addition, while the Fed is acutely aware that inflation numbers are going to rise in the near-term, as the base effects of last year’s Covid inspired economic disaster will now form the comparison, we have consistently heard that any inflation will be transitory and so is of no concern at this time.

The question is, how will they justify continued ZIRP and QE with GDP growth of 5% or more?  And, the answer is that Chair Powell will simply focus on the unemployment situation and once again explain that until those 10 million jobs that were lost to Covid are regained, the Fed will be striving to achieve maximum employment.  It is doubtful there will be any mention of rising yields in the statement, but you can be sure that the first question in the press conference will take up the subject, as will a number of others.

The other thing we get at this quarter-end meeting is the latest dot plot, which is a compilation of each of the FOMC members’ views of where interest rates will be over the next 3 years as well as in the ‘long run’.  The median outcome for each year has become the key statistic and last time it showed that rates were not expected to rise until after 2023, although the longer term view was that 2.5% was likely over time.  However, currently the market is pricing a 0.25% rate hike by December 2022 and two more in 2023 which is far more than the Fed had indicated.  Of great interest to all will be whether this view is changing at the Fed, and some tightening is expected prior to 2023.  Certainly, the bond market is pushing that narrative, with yields continuing to press higher (10-year treasuries are +3bps this morning and, at 1.65%, trading at a new high for the move.)

Remember, too, that prior to the Fed’s quiet period, when the bond market was selling off and yields rising, Powell and friends showed insouciance over the issue, declaring it a vote of confidence in the economy.  At least two weeks ago, there was little concern over rising yields and how they might impact the Fed’s efforts to stimulate further job growth.  Is that still the case?  Since Powell last spoke, the 10-year yield has risen another 9 basis points and shows no signs, whatsoever, of stopping soon.

So, there you have it, the Fed needs to walk that fine line of explaining things are getting better but there is no reason for them to stop providing stimulus.  History has shown that the market reaction comes from the press conference, not the statement, as the nuance of some comment or answer to a question can easily be misinterpreted by market players, and more importantly these days, by algorithms.  FWIW, I anticipate that Powell will continue to slough off any concerns about rising yields and a steepening yield curve and remain entirely focused on the front end.  While I expect several more ‘dots’ to highlight a rise in rates, it would truly be shocking if the median changed.  And in the end, if the Fed looks comfortable with rising yields, they will continue to rise, and with them, I would look for the dollar to follow.

Ahead of the news, markets have been in a holding pattern.  In Asia, the major equity markets were essentially unchanged overnight, with no movement of even 0.05%.  European bourses are generally ever so slightly softer this morning (CAC -0.2%, FTSE 100 -0.3%) although the DAX (+0.1%) has managed to eke out a gain so far.  As to US futures, they too are mixed, with NASDAQ futures (-0.5%) amongst the worst performing of all markets today, although the other two main indices are little changed.

Not only are Treasury yields higher, but we are seeing that price action throughout Europe, with Bunds (+1.9bps), OATs (+2.0bps) and Gilts (+3.3bps) all following the Treasury market.  Either inflation concerns are starting to pick up, or belief in a rebound is starting to pick up, although given the continuation of lockdowns in Europe, and their recent extensions, the latter seems like a harder story to swallow.

Commodity prices are softer pretty much across the board, with oil (-1.15%) leading the way, although weakness in both the base and precious metals is evident as well as in the agricultural space.  And lastly, the dollar is beginning to edge higher as I type, although not by any significant amounts.  In the G10 space, AUD (-0.35%), SEK (-0.3%) and CHF (-0.3%) are the leading decliners although one would be hard pressed to find a fundamental rationale for the movement.  With all eyes on the Fed, essentially all movement so far has been position adjustments amid much lighter than normal trading activity.

In the Emerging markets, RUB (-1.25%) is the weakest of the bunch after a surprising comment by President Biden hit the tape, “Biden says he thinks Putin is a killer.”  Them’s fightin’ words, and it would not be surprising to see an escalation of a war of words going forward, although it is not clear this would impact any currency other than the ruble.  Beyond that, MXN (-0.5%) is the next worst performer, arguably following oil as well as the growing concerns that rising inflation in emerging markets is going to force policy tightening and slowing growth.  This evening, the Banco do Brazil will be announcing their policy with the market anticipating a 0.50% rate hike, the first of many as inflation there continues to run higher than target.  This is being seen as a harbinger of other central bank actions, where they will be forced to fight inflation at the expense of economic activity, and that typically is negative for a currency at the beginning of the battle.

On the data front, today brings Housing Starts (exp 1560K) and Building Permits (1750K) ahead of the FOMC decision this afternoon.  While those numbers are a bit softer than last month, the longer-term trend remains firmly upward.  And then it’s the Fed and Mr Powell’s comments that will drive everything.  Ahead of the Fed, I anticipate limited movement overall, but my expectations are that Powell will continue to ignore rising yields and focus strictly on the front end of the curve as well as the unemployment situation.  If the stories about Secretary Yellen being unconcerned about rising yields are correct, and they are quite believable, then look for the curve to steepen further, and the dollar to test key resistance levels against most of its counterparts.

Good luck and stay safe

Right From the Script

While last night, the 10-year yield slipped
It’s still reading right from the script
Of trading much higher
As growth does transpire
And vaccines are rapidly shipped
Investors, though, caution, have shown
As high yields have caused a full-blown
Correction in tech
And currency wreck
Just proving the future’s unknown
Price action throughout markets overnight has largely been a correction of what has turned out to be a surprising rout in tech stocks and a surprising rally in the dollar.  Quickly recapping the consensus views as the year began, the combination of more fiscal and monetary stimulus and a ramped up vaccination rate would lead to a reopening of the US (and world) economy, much faster growth, higher Treasury yields, rising stock prices and a weaker dollar as increased risk appetite led to dollar selling.  Positioning for those views was both widespread and large as investors looked forward to another banner year.  Oops!
As so often happens in markets, even if views are correct in the long run, when a new consensus is reached it means that, pretty much all the investment that is heading in that direction has already arrived, and the result is that those positions tend to lose out as the excitement fades.  And arguably, that is what we have seen in general, although not universally.  Despite last night’s modest bond rally (Treasury yields -5.9bps), the yield curve remains both higher and steeper than at the beginning of the year and appears to have room for further movement in that direction.
One of the strongest views that exists is that the Fed will not (cannot) allow Treasury yields to rise beyond a certain, unknown, point, as the cost to the government would be devastating.  That has certainly been my view and informs my belief that when that happens, the dollar will reverse its recent strength and decline sharply alongside real US yields.  But what if the Fed means what they say when describing the rise in long-term yields as a good thing?  How might that play out?
The first thing to note is that the yield curve (which I will define as the 2yr-10yr spread) is currently at 137bps, obviously well above the levels seen at the beginning of the year and showing no signs of stopping.  The one thing of which we can be confident right now is that the 2yr yield seems unlikely to move with the Fed maintaining ZIRP up front, so the spread will be entirely dependent on the movement in the 10-year.  But a quick look at the history of the spread shows that the current level is merely in the middle of the range with at least five different times in the past 30 years where this spread rose well over 200 basis points, the most recent being during the Taper Tantrum in 2013 when it reached 260 basis points.  Now, ask yourself what would happen if 10-year Treasury yields rose to 2.75%.  How do you think that would play out in the equity market?  In FX? And for the economy as a whole?
Arguably, this type of interest rate movement would be the result of much faster growth and inflation in the US than currently forecast and seen elsewhere in the world.  (As an aside, the OECD today raised their forecast for US GDP growth in 2021 to 6.5%).  If that forecast is accurate, and if inflation simply gets to the Fed’s 2.0% target, that means nominal GDP will be 8.5%!  How can that square with a 10-year yield of 2.75%, let alone today’s 1.55%.  It would seem that something has to give here.  Two potential relief valves are the dollar, which would need to rally much more sharply than we have seen (think EURUSD at 1.05-1.10) or inflation rising more than 2.0%, perhaps as high as 3.5%-4.0%.  History has shown that in situations like that, equity markets tend to underperform.  And maybe that’s the key.  Most of these forecasts for the strong equity, higher interest rate, weaker dollar outcome were based on the idea that central banks and governments could find the perfect mix of policies to achieve these goals.  If there is anything about which we can be sure, other than 2-year yields are not going to rise, it is that neither central banks nor governments have any idea what the proper mix of policies is to achieve those goals.  This is why economic and market activity remain volatile, because the constant tweaks and changes have many unexpected side effects.
This is not to imply that the yield curve is going to steepen that much, just that it cannot be ruled out, and if that happens, you need to be ready for a great deal more market volatility.
Which takes us to the current session. 
In China, the powers that be
Are worried they’re starting to see
A market decline
That could well define
New weakness in President Xi
Overnight saw mixed risk appetite with both the Nikkei (+1.0%) and Hang Seng (+0.8%) rising, but Shanghai (-1.8%) having a rough session.  In fact, the decline in stocks on the mainland has been so great that the Chinese government has called in the plunge protection team, which saw action last night to try to prevent a further rout (Shanghai -10% in pat 3 weeks), although obviously they were unable to prevent the process continuing.  As China continues to register concern over bubbles, it is reasonable to expect further declines in this market, as well as many of the other Asian markets that are linked.
Europe, on the other hand, is feeling better this morning with gains pretty much across the board (DAX +0.3%, CAC +0.3%, FTE 100 +0.6%), which seem to have ignored modes downward revisions to some Q4 economic data (GDP -0.7%).  And finally, US futures are all firmly higher, notably NASDAQ (+2.2%), which is rebounding from its 11% decline over the past 3 weeks.
European bond markets are rallying alongside Treasuries, with Bunds (-5.3bps) and OATs (-5.2bps) a good descriptor of the entire continent’s price action.  Given the type of movement we have seen throughout government bonds worldwide, it would not be a huge surprise to see a further correction before the next leg higher in yields.
On the commodity front, oil prices are leading things higher (+0.6%) although the decline in yields has also supported gold (+1.4%) which is coming off a very difficult stretch.  Base metals are mixed as are agriculturals, with the current price action almost certainly a consolidation before the next leg higher for both segments.
And finally, the dollar, which is almost universally weaker this morning.  In the G10, AUD (+0.65%) is the leading gainer, but is merely emblematic of the commodity price action as we have seen the other commodity linked currencies in this bloc perform well (NOK +0.6%, CAD +0.45%).  In the EMG space, TRY (+1.5%) is the leading gainer, which during a risk on session is quite normal, with ZAR (+0.9%) and MXN (+0.8%) joining in the fun.  CE4 currencies are also performing well (CZK +0.8%, PLN +0.6%).  However, there are a couple of laggards, notably BRL (-0.7%), KRW (-0.6%) and TWD (-0.5%).  The latter two suffered from ongoing equity outflows from international investors, linked to China’s equity woes, while BRL is suffering from concerns over new political problems President Bolsonaro.
On the data front, NFIB Small Business Optimism was released this morning at a worse than expected 95.8, which, while better than expected, demonstrates some still ongoing concerns over the state of the economy.  Clearly, there are no Fed speakers today, so FX is very likely to follow the risk appetite today.  This modest dollar correction lower seems more like a reaction to what had been a surprisingly powerful dollar rally than a reversal.  So my gut tells me that the dollar will rebound along with yields as the week progresses.
Good luck and stay safe

Not On His Watch

Rumors were rampant
Kuroda would let yields rise
Oops! Not on his watch
Perhaps Chairman Powell should look east for clues on how to manage bond market expectations, as his efforts yesterday can only be termed a disaster.  However, Haruhiko Kuroda was quite successful in talking down the back end of the JGB curve, and the BOJ didn’t have to spend a single dime yen. 
Last night, Kuroda-san was speaking to parliament on a number of issues when he was asked, point blank, if the BOJ was considering widening the yield band on 10-year JGB’s.  He replied, “Personally, I believe it’s neither necessary nor appropriate to expand the band.  There’s no change in the importance of keeping the yield curve stable at a lower level.”  And just like that, JGB yields tumbled across the board with 10-year yields falling 5bps to 0.05%.  The genesis of the question came about as rumors have been constant that during the ongoing BOJ policy review, with conclusions set to be announced later this month, the BOJ would allow a wider band around their 10-year YCC target of 0.0% as a means of steepening the yield curve to help the banking sector.  But clearly, that is not on the cards, so whatever changes may be announced next month, it seems that portion of the current policy is remaining unchanged. The market response was immediate in bond markets, but also in FX as the yen quickly fell 0.5% and is now trading at its weakest level since last June.  Perhaps what is more interesting about the yen’s move is the trajectory of its declines, which are starting to go parabolic.  Beware a much weaker yen, with a short-term test of 110 seemingly on the cards.
Chair Jay tried quite hard to explain
That joblessness is still the bane
Of policy goals
Thus, rising payrolls
Are needed ere rates rise again
But what he said, and markets heard
Was different and that is what spurred
A bond market rout
And stock buying drought
While dollar buys were undeterred
Meanwhile, back at the ranch…Chairman Powell made his last comments yesterday before the quiet period begins ahead of the mid-March FOMC meeting.  In an interview he explained that the FOMC remains quite far from its goals of maximum employment and stable (2% inflation) prices and that they would not be altering policy until those goals are achieved.  However, he did not indicate that they would be expanding their current easy money stance, either by expanding QE or extending the tenor of purchases, and he remained sanguine when asked about the steepening of the yield curve, explaining that it was a positive sign of growth expectations.
Alas, it is not that simple for the Fed as they have put themselves in a very difficult position.  Financial conditions, while seemingly an amorphous term, actually has some precision.  The Chicago Fed has an index with 105 variables but Goldman Sachs has created a much simpler version with just 4 variables; riskless interest rates (10-year yields), equity valuations (S&P 500), Credit Spreads (CDX) and the exchange rate (DXY).  Directionally, conditions are tightening when yields rise, stocks fall, credit spreads widen and the dollar rises, which is exactly what is happening right now!  In fact, in the wake of the Powell comments, they all got tighter.  Now, I’m pretty sure that was not Powell’s intention, but nonetheless, it was the result. 
The problem Powell and the Fed have is that, like Pavlov’s dogs, markets begin to drool at the sound of a Powell speech in anticipation of further easy money to prop things up.  But the market has extended this concept to the back end of the curve, not just the front, and the Fed, unless they change policy, has far less control out there.  It was this setup that put the pressure on Powell to ease policy further, and when he did not change his tune, the market had a little fit. 
Now, remember, the Fed is in its quiet period for the next 12 days, 8 of which will see markets open and trading.  Markets have a history of testing the Fed when they want something, and the Fed’s reaction function, ever since Maestro Alan Greenspan was Fed Chair in 1987 during the Black Monday stock market rout, has been to flood the market with more liquidity when markets sell off.  With that in mind, I would not be surprised to see 10-year yields test 2.0% in the next two weeks as the market tries to force the Fed’s hand.  Be prepared for more volatility and tighter financial conditions as defined by the index I described above.
Which leads us to today’s market activity, where risk is clearly under some pressure ahead of the payroll report this morning.  In Asia, equities were broadly, but not deeply, lower (Nikkei -0.25%, Hang Seng -0.5%, Shanghai -0.1%) while in Europe, early losses every where have eased and the picture is now mixed (DAX -0.6%, CAC -0.3%, FTSE 100 +0.4%).  US futures, which had been in negative territory all evening have turned higher and are currently up by roughly 0.15%.
Bonds, however, are universally softer with yields rising everywhere (except JGB’s last night).  So, Bunds (+1.2bps), OATs (+1.5bps) and Gilts (+4.2bps) lead the yield parade higher with Treasuries currently unchanged, although this is after yesterday’s 8bp rout.  Australian ACGBs continue to sell off sharply with yields higher by another 6bps overnight which takes that move to 63bps in the past month.
On the commodity front, OPEC+ surprised markets yesterday by leaving production unchanged vs. an expectation that they would increase it by 1 million bpd, which resulted in a sharp rally in oil prices which has continued this morning.  WTI (+2.5%) is now above $65/bbl for the first time since October 2018.  Base metals have rallied as well while precious metals are still suffering from the higher real yields attached to higher nominal yields.
And finally, the dollar, which is higher vs. almost every one of its counterparts this morning, with only NOK (+0.2%) and RUB (+0.3%) benefitting from the oil rally enough to overcome the dollar’s yield effect.  But elsewhere in the G10, AUD (-0.7%) and NZD -0.75%) are leading the way lower with GBP (-0.55%) also under the gun.  Now, we are seeing yields rise in all these currencies, but a big part of this move is clearly position unwinding as the massive short dollar positions that have been evident since Q4 2020 are starting to feel more pressure and getting unwound.  The euro, too, is softer, -0.3%, which has taken it below its previous correction lows, and technically opens up a test of the 200-day moving average at 1.1825.
In the EMG bloc, the weakness is widespread with CE4 currencies leading the euro lower, LATAM currencies (CLP -0.65%, MXN -0.6%, BRL -0.25%) all under pressure and most APAC currencies having performed poorly overnight, including CNY (-0.3%) which fell despite the new Five Year plan forecasting GDP growth above 6.0% this year.
And finally, the data story where we have payrolls this morning:

Nonfarm Payrolls


Private Payrolls


Manufacturing Payrolls


Unemployment Rate


Participation Rate


Average Hourly Earnings

0.2% (5.3% Y/Y)

Average Weekly Hours


Trade Balance


Source: Bloomberg
The thing is, while this number usually means a lot, I think there is asymmetric risk attached today.  A weak number will not do anything, while a strong number could well see the next leg of the bond market rout and ensuing stock market weakness.  Traders, when they are in the mood to test the Fed, will jump on any excuse, and this would be a good one.
For right now, the dollar has the upper hand, and I see no reason for that to change until we hear something different from the Fed.  And that is two weeks away!
Good luck, good weekend and stay safe

The Fed’s Nonchalance

The view from the Fed’ral Reserve
When viewing the present yield curve
Is that higher rates
Show, here in the States
The ‘conomy’s showing some verve

Contrast that with Europe’s response
To rising yields, where at the nonce
Ms Schanbel’s the third
Of speakers we heard
All lacking the Fed’s nonchalance

All I can say about yesterday’s market activity was that we cannot be too surprised that the imbalances that have been building up for the past year (or more accurately 13 years) resulted in some significant market volatility across every asset class.  Perhaps the most interesting thing was that virtually every asset class was sold aggressively, with no obvious havens available.  Stocks fell, bonds fell, gold fell, the dollar fell, Bitcoin fell; just what did people buy with those proceeds?

But of more interest to me was the central bank responses we have seen to the recent rise in long-term yields around the world.  Arguably, this has been the catalyst to all the market activity, so remains the first place we need to look for answers.

And what did we hear?  Well, four separate FOMC members (Williams, Bostic, Bullard and George) explained that rising yields were a good thing as it shows confidence in the economic growth story.  And oh, by the way, yields are still quite low so they shouldn’t have a negative impact on the economy.  While they may well be sincere in those views, these comments smack more of whistling past the graveyard than wholehearted support of market price action.  After all, the one thing the Fed has demonstrated since the GFC in 2008 is that unrestrained market price action is the last thing they want to see.  Rather, they want to make sure they control the game and the market price action proceeds slowly and calmly in their preferred direction.  You know, like watching paint dry.

And of course, in the broad scheme of things, yields do remain quite low.  Even at yesterday’s high point, the 10-year Treasury was yielding only 1.61%, which is still in the lowest decile of yields during the 10-year’s history.  Interestingly, the ECB has not been quite as sanguine regarding bond yields, despite the fact that bond yields throughout the entire continent are much lower than US yields.  On Monday Madame Lagarde explained they were “closely monitoring” bond yields.  Yesterday, ECB Chief Economist, and the ECB member with the most policy chops, Philip Lane, explained they would use the flexibility of the PEPP to prevent any undue tightening in financial conditions.  Then this morning, Isabel Schnabel, an Executive Board member, was more forthright, explaining the ECB may need to boost policy support if real long-term yields rise too early in the recovery process.  In other words, since they don’t believe that inflation is coming, rising yields need to be stopped.

What if, however, all these central bankers are completely wrong about the future of inflation?  What if, they have been reading their own narrative and now believe that there is no inflation on the way, thus rates should never need to rise?  That, my friends, has the chance to lead to some serious policy errors going forward.

So, let’s take a look at the most recent inflation indicators we have seen, and consider the situation.  Last night, Tokyo CPI was released at -0.3% Y/Y, which while obviously low, was higher than last month and forecast.  Then, this morning French PPI printed positive (+0.4%) for the first time in more than a year while French CPI rose a more than expected 0.7% in February.  Meanwhile, German Import Prices rose a much more than expected 1.9% in January, the biggest jump since September 1990!  And finally, here in the States, the GDP is released with a price index which rose to 2.1%, a tick above expectations.  Now, none of this is a description of raging inflation, but boy, there does seem to be a decent amount of price pressure building in the system.  Perhaps, just perhaps, bond yields are rising on rising inflation concerns, whether economic growth is present or not.

This idea is important because a key ingredient for market forecasts this year has been the trajectory of real interest rates.  At face value, the combined comments of Fed and ECB speakers this week tells us that the Fed is going to allow long-term yields to continue to rise while the ECB is going to step in and stop the madness.  If that is actually how things play out, I assure you that the euro will be hard pressed to move any higher, and that a sharp decline could be in the offing.  In fact, that is true for virtually every currency, where the dollar may very well reassert itself if that is the interest rate scenario that plays out.

Of course, I don’t believe the Fed will allow yields to simply rise unabated, as the cost to the Federal government in increased interest payments will be extremely uncomfortable, so I still look for QE to be expanded and extended, perhaps as soon as the March meeting if yields continue to rally from here.  At 1.75% on the 10-year, the Fed will be feeling the pinch, especially if equity markets continue to suffer under a rising yield scenario.  Thus, I am still in the camp of the dollar eventually falling more sharply as rising inflation rates outstrip capped interest rates.  But the latest comments from the central banks have certainly raised the risk on that view!

Ok, we all know that yesterday was a rout in the markets.  This morning, is unfortunately, not looking much better. Asian equity markets last night followed the US lead and fell sharply (Nikkei -4.0%, Hang Seng -3.6%, Shanghai -2.1%) and European markets, which all fell yesterday, are lower again this morning (DAX -0.8%, CAC -1.1%, FTSE 100 -1.4%).  And, don’t be looking for a bounce in the US as futures are pointing lower as well, between -0.3% and -0.6% at this hour.

Bonds?  Well, Asian yields continued to rise, notably Australia’s ACGBs (+17.2bps), but most of Europe has reversed course this morning after the trio of ECB speakers seem to have calmed some jitters.  So, Bunds (-1.6bps) and OATs (-1.7bps) have seen modest rallies.  Gilts (+4.0bps), though, have had no commentary to support them and continue to sell off.  Treasury yields are lower by 4.1bps at this hour, which feels very much like a trading reaction (after all yields rose 26bps since Tuesday), but all eyes will be on this morning’s Core PCE data, which if it does print higher than the expected 1.4%, could well start the selling all over again.

Oil prices (-2.2%) are having their worst session in more than two months, but the uptrend remains intact.  Precious metals prices continue to suffer as well, as real yields rise alongside nominal yields, although base metals are holding in a bit better.

And finally, the dollar is stronger pretty much across the board this morning. With AUD (-1.5%) the worst G10 performer and the two havens (CHF and JPY) both lower by just -0.1%.  Down Under, the market finally forced the RBA’s hand regarding their YCC, and the RBA bought $A3 billion of 3-year notes to push yields back below their 0.10% target.  This had the additional impact of discouraging FX investors from owning the currency.  In fact, this is exactly what I would expect of the euro if (when) the ECB does the same thing.

On the EMG side of things, Asian markets last night tried to catch up with the routs seen in LATAM and EEMEA markets yesterday, with INR (-1.4%) and KRW (-1.4%) the leading decliners, but substantial weakness even in the more stable currencies like SGD (-0.3%) and CNY (-0.2%).  This morning, CLP (-0.9%) and MXN (-0.7%) are leading the way lower in this time zone.  And, of course, this is all the same story of shedding risk.

On the data front, a bunch more is coming starting with Personal Income (exp 9.5%), Personal Spending (2.5%) and the aforementioned Core PCE (1.4%) all at 8:30.  Then later in the morning we see Chicago PMI (61.0) and Michigan Sentiment (76.5), but I believe the PCE number is the most important.  Mercifully, there are no further Fed speakers today, but after all, we already know what they think.  Accommodation is going to be with us for a looooong time and higher yields are a sign of confidence, so no problem.

The wrinkle in the higher inflation argument is if the Fed truly does let yields run higher and other countries cap theirs, the stronger dollar will rein in price pressures.  And for now, that appears to be what the market is starting to believe.  I maintain the Fed will not allow yields to continue running higher unabated, but until they act, the dollar should perform well.  Maybe we do retest the 1,1950 level in the euro, and who knows, 107.00 USDJPY is not out of the question.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe

More Havoc

Said Jay, ‘don’t know why you believe
That just because people perceive
Inflation is higher
That we would conspire
To raise rates, that’s really naïve

Instead, interest rates will remain
At zero until we attain
The outcome we seek
Although that may wreak
More havoc than financial gain

The economy is a long way from our employment and inflation goals, and it is likely to take some time for substantial further progress to be achieved.”  So said Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell at his Senate testimony yesterday morning.  If that is not a clear enough statement that the Fed will not be adjusting policy, at least in a tightening direction, for years to come, I don’t know what is.  Essentially, after he said that, the growing fears that US monetary policy would be tightening soon quickly dissipated, and the early fears exhibited in the equity markets, where the NASDAQ fell almost 4% at its worst level, were largely reversed.

However, the much more frightening comment was the hubris he demonstrated regarding inflation, “I really do not expect that we’ll be in a situation where inflation rises to troubling levels.  Inflation dynamics do change over time, but they don’t change on a dime, and so we don’t really see how a burst of fiscal support or spending that doesn’t last for many years would actually change those inflation dynamics.” [author’s emphasis].  Perhaps he has forgotten the 2017 tax cut package or the $2.2 trillion CARES act or the $900 billion second stimulus package last December, but it certainly seems like we have been adding fiscal support for many years.  And, of course, if the mooted $1.9 trillion stimulus bill passes through Congress, that would merely be adding fuel to the fire.

If one wanted an explanation for why government bond yields around the world are rising, one needs look no further than the attitude expressed by the Chairman.  Bond investors clearly see the threat of rising prices as a much nearer term phenomenon than central bankers.  The irony is that these rising prices are the accompaniment to a more robust recovery than had been anticipated by both markets and central bankers just months ago.  In other words, this should be seen as good news.  But the central banks fear that market moves in interest rates will actually work against their interests and have made clear they will fight those moves for a long time to come.  We have heard this from the ECB, the BOE, the RBA and the RBNZ just in the past week.  Oh yeah, the BOJ made clear that continued equity market purchases on their part will not be stopping either.  History has shown that when inflation starts to percolate, it can rise extremely rapidly in a short period of time, even after central bank’s change their policies.  Ignoring this history has the potential to be quite problematic.

But for now, the central banks have been able to maintain their control over markets, and every one of them remains committed to keeping the monetary taps open regardless of the data.  So, while the longest dated debt is likely to continue to see rising yields, as that is the point on the curve where central banks generally have the least impact, the fight between inflation hawks and central banks at the front of the curve is very likely to remain a win for the authorities, at least for now.

Turning our attention to today’s session we see that while Asian equity markets were uniformly awful (Nikkei -1.6%, Hang Seng -3.0%, Shanghai -2.0%), part of the problem was the announcement of an increased stamp duty by the Hong Kong government, meaning the tax on share trading was going higher.  Look for trading volumes to decrease a bit and prices to lag for a while.  Europe, however, has shown a bit more optimism, with the DAX (+0.6%) benefitting from a slightly better than expected performance in Q4 2020, where GDP was revised higher to a 0.3% gain from the original 0.1% estimate.  While Q1 2021 is going to be pretty lousy, forecast at -1.5% due to the lockdowns, Monday’s IFO Survey showed growing confidence that things will get better soon.  Meanwhile, the CAC (0.0%) and FTSE 100 (-0.1%) are not enjoying the same kind of performance, but they are certainly far better than what we saw in Asia.  And finally, US futures are mixed as NASDAQ futures (-0.2%) continue to lag the other indices, both of which are flat at this time.  Rising bond yields are really starting to impact the NASDAQ story.

Speaking of bonds, Treasury yields, after a modest reprieve yesterday, are once again selling off, with the 10-year seeing yields higher by 2.6bps.  Similarly, Gilts (+2.6bps) are under pressure as inflation expectations rise in the UK given their strong effort in vaccinating the entire population.  However, both Bunds and OATs are little changed this morning, as the ECB continues to show concern over rising yields, “closely monitoring” them which is code for they will expand purchases if yields rise too much.

On the commodity front, oil continues to rally, up a further 0.5%, and we are seeing a bit of a bid in precious metals as well (gold +0.2%).  Base metals have been more mixed, although copper continues to soar, and the agricultural space remains well bid.  Food costs more.

As to the dollar, mixed is a good description today with NZD (+0.7%) the leading gainer after some traders read the RBNZ comments as an indication less policy ease was needed.  As well, NOK (+0.5) is benefitting from oil’s ongoing rally, with CAD (+0.25%) a lesser beneficiary.  On the flip side, JPY (-0.5%) is the laggard, as carry trades using the yen as funding currency are gaining adherents again.  I would be remiss if I did not mention the pound (+0.2%), for its 13th trading gain in the past 15 sessions, during which it has risen over 4.3%.

In the EMG bloc, it is the commodity currencies that are leading the way higher with RUB (+1.2%) on the back of oil’s strength on top of the list, followed by CLP (+0.7%) on copper’s continued rally, MXN (+0.7%), oil related, and ZAR (+0.5%) on general commodity strength.  The only notable loser today is TRY (-0.8%), after comments by President Erdogan that Turkey is determined to reduce inflation and cut interest rates.

On the data front, New Home Sales (exp 856K) is the only release, although we hear from Chairman Powell again, as well as vice-Chairman Clarida.  Powell’s testimony to the House is unlikely to bring anything new and he will simply reiterate that their job is not done, and they will maintain current policy for a long time to come.

It seems to me that the dollar is trapped in its recent trading range and will need a significant catalyst to change opinions.  If the US yield curve continues to steepen, which seems likely, and that results in equity markets repricing to some extent, I think the dollar could retest the top of its recent range.  However, as long as the equity narrative continues to play out, that the Fed will prevent any sharp declines and the front end of the yield curve will stay put for years to come, I think an eventual break down in the dollar is likely.  That will be accelerated as inflation data starts to print higher, but that remains a few months away.  So, range trading it is for now.

Good luck and stay safe

Crash Landing

The Narrative tells us the Fed
Will let prices rise up ahead
But if that’s the case
Then how will they pace
The rise in the 2’s-10’s yield spread

And what if this spread keeps expanding
Will stocks markets see a crash landing?
Or will Chairman Jay
Once more save the day
And buy every bond that’s outstanding?

Remember when the Narrative explained that record high traditional valuation measures of the stock market (like P/E or CAPE or P/S) were irrelevant because in today’s world, permanently low interest rates guaranteed by the Fed meant there was no limit for valuations?  That was soooo last month.  Or, remember when economists of all stripes explained that all the slack in the economy created by the government shutdowns meant that inflation wouldn’t reappear for years?  (The Fed continues to push this story aggressively as every member explains there is no reason for them to consider raising rates at any time in the remotely near future.)  This, too, at least in the bond market’s eyes, is ancient history.  So, something is changing in the market’s collective perception of the future, and prices are beginning to reflect this.

The bond market is the appropriate place to begin this conversation as that is where all the action is lately.  For instance, this morning, 10-year Treasury yields have risen another 2.4bps and are trading at their highest level in almost exactly one year, although remain far below longer-term averages.  Meanwhile, 30-year Treasuries have risen even more, and are now yielding 2.155%.  Again, while this is the highest in a bit more than a year, it is also well below longer term averages.  The point is, there seems to be room for yields to run higher.

Something else that gets a lot of press is the shape of the yield curve and its increasing steepness.  Today, the 2yr-10yr spread is 125bps.  This is the steepest it has been since the end of 2016, but nowhere near its record gap of 8.42% back in late 1975.  The Narrative tells us this is the reflation trade, with the bond market anticipating the reopening of the economy combined with a flood of new stimulus money driving business activity higher and prices along with that business.

Now, the question that has yet to be answered is how the Fed will respond to these rising yields.  We are all aware that Federal debt outstanding has been growing rapidly as the Treasury issues all that paper to fund the stimulus packages.  And we have all heard the argument that the size of the debt doesn’t matter because debt service costs have actually fallen over time as interest rates have collapsed with the Fed’s help.  The last part is true, at least over the past several years, where in 2020, it appears Federal debt service amounted to 2.43% of GDP, a decline from both 2018 and 2019, although modestly higher than 2017.  But, if the yield curve continues to steepen as 10yr through 30yr yields continue to rise, as long as the Treasury continues to issue debt in those maturities, the cost to the Federal government is going to rise as well.  The question is, how much can the government afford?  And the answer is, probably not much.  A perfect anecdote is that the increased interest cost of a 50 basis point rise in average Treasury yields will cost the government the same amount as funding the US Navy for a year!  If yields truly begin to rise across the curve, Ms Yellen will have some difficult choices to make.

But this is not just a US phenomenon, it is a global phenomenon.  Yields throughout the developing world are rising pretty rapidly, despite central bank efforts to prevent just that from occurring.  As an example, we can look at Australia, where the RBA has established YCC in the 3yr space, ostensibly capping yields there at 0.10%.  I say ostensibly because as of last night, they were trading at 0.12%.  Now, 2 basis points may not seem like much, but what it shows is that the RBA cannot buy those bonds fast enough to absorb the selling.  And the problem there is it brings into question the RBA’s credibility.  After all, if they promise to keep yields low, and yields rise anyway, what is the value of their promises?  Oh yeah, Aussie 10yr yields jumped 16.9 basis points last night!  It appears that the RBA’s QE program is having some difficulty.

In fact, despite pressure on stocks throughout the world, bond yields are rising sharply.  In other words, the haven status of government bonds is being questioned right now, and thus far, no central bank has provided a satisfactory answer.  Perhaps, the bigger question is, can any central bank provide that answer?  As influential as they are, central banks are not larger than the market writ large, and if investor psychology changes such that bonds are no longer seen as worthwhile investments because those same central banks get their wished for inflation, all financial securities markets could find themselves in some difficult straits.  This is not to imply that a collapse is around the corner, just that the working assumption that the central banks can always save the day may need to be revised at some point.

So, can yields continue to go higher without a more substantive response from the Fed or ECB or BOE or RBA or BOC?  Certainly, all eyes will be on Chairman Powell to see his response.  My view has been the Fed will effectively, if not explicitly, try to cap yields at least out to 10 years.  If I am correct, the dollar should suffer substantially.  Again, this is not to say this is due this morning, just that as this story unfolds, that is the likely trend.

And what else is happening in markets?  Well beyond the bond market declines (Gilts +2.3bps, Treasuries now +4.1bps, even Bunds +0.5bps), European bourses are falling everywhere (DAX -0.6%, CAC -0.5%, FTSE 100 -0.7%) after weakness throughout most of Asia (Hang Seng -1.1%, Shanghai -1.5%, although Nikkei +0.5% was the outlier).  US futures? All red and substantially so, with NASDAQ futures lower by 1.3% although the other indices are not quite as badly off, between -0.5% and -0.7%.

Commodity prices, however, continue to rise, with oil (+1.0%) leading energy mostly higher while both base and precious metals are higher as well.  So, too, are prices of grains rising, as we continue to see the price of ‘stuff’ rise relative to the price of financials.

Finally, turning to the dollar, it is broadly stronger against its EMG counterparts, but more mixed vs. the G10.  In the former, MXN (-1.4%) and ZAR (-1.35%) are leading the way lower, although BRL is called down by more than 2.0% at the opening there.  But the weakness is pervasive in this space with APAC and CE4 currencies also suffering.  However, G10 is a bit different with AUD (+0.2%) leading the way higher on the back of the record high prices in tin and copper alongside the rising rate picture and reduced covid infection rates.  On the flip side, NOK (-0.3%) is the weakest of the bunch, despite oil’s rebound, which appears to be a reaction to strength seen late last week.  In other words, it is market internals, not news, driving the story there.

On the data front we do get a fair amount of new information this week as follows:

Today Leading Indicators 0.4%
Tuesday Case Shiller House Prices 9.90%
Consumer Confidence 90.0
Wednesday New Home Sales 855K
Thursday Durable Goods 1.0%
-ex transport 0.7%
Initial Claims 830K
Continuing Claims 4.42M
GDP Q4 4.2%
Friday Personal Income 9.5%
Personal Spending 2.5%
PCE Core 0.1% (1.4% Y/Y)
Chicago PMI 61.0
Michigan Sentiment 76.5

Source: Bloomberg

Beyond the data, with GDP and Personal Spending likely the keys, we hear from a number of Fed speakers, most importantly from Chairman Powell tomorrow and Wednesday as he testifies before the Senate Banking Committee and then the House Financial Services Committee.  The one thing about which you can be sure is that Congress will ask him to support their stimulus plan and that he will definitely do so.  It strikes me that will just push Treasury yields higher.  In fact, perhaps the March FOMC meeting is starting to shape up as a really important one, as the question of higher yields may need to be addressed directly.  We shall see.

For now, yield rises are outstripping inflation prints and so real yields are rising as well.  This is supporting the dollar and will undermine strength in some securities markets.  However, history has shown that the Fed is unlikely to allow real yields to rise too far before responding.  For now, the dollar remains in its trading range and is likely to stay there.  But as the year progresses, I continue to see the Fed stopping yields and the dollar falling accordingly.

Good luck and stay safe

Fears to Assuage

When calendars all turned the page
To ‘Twenty-One, clearly the rage
Was bets on reflation
And more legislation
For stimulus, fears to assuage

The dollar was slated to fall
The yield curve, to grow much more tall
While stocks were to rally
And Covid’s finale
Was forecast, a popular call

But so far, while stocks have edged higher
And bond yields are truly on fire
The dollar remains
Ensconced in its gains
Its meltdown has yet to transpire

One cannot be but impressed with the dollar’s resilience so far this year amid such surety by so many that it was destined to fall sharply.  Consensus views at the beginning of January were that the vaccines would lead to significant reflation in the global economy, equity markets would benefit greatly, bond yields would rise amid trillions of dollars of new issuance, and the dollar would fall.  As I said from the start, higher bond yields and a steeper yield curve did not typically lead to dollar weakness.  And that is what we have begun to see in the past several sessions.

Global bond markets have really started to reprice the current situation.  While the US story is easy to understand; huge new stimulus bill with no tax increases means huge new Treasury issuance to pay for things and supply overwhelms demand, one needs to ask what is driving the price declines throughout Europe and Asia as well. Stimulus efforts elsewhere have been less substantial despite more severe lockdowns by most of Europe and many Asian nations.  So, perhaps it was not merely the supply-demand imbalance that had bond investors concerned, perhaps it was also inflation expectations.

Certainly, these have been rising sharply with US 5yr-5yr breakevens now at 2.40% this morning, the highest level since March 2013, and not merely trending higher, but exploding higher.  (Germany, too, has seen a sharp rise in breakeven inflation, albeit to much lower levels, rising from 0.2% at the lows last March to 1.06% today.)  While last week’s CPI readings were a touch softer than expected on a headline basis, the reality is that higher inflation remains almost assured going forward.  This is partly because of the way the data is calculated, where last year’s pandemic induced lows will fall out of the calculation to be replaced by this year’s much higher readings.  It is also evident in the rising price of commodities, specifically oil (+1.0% this morning) which is higher by 25% this year.  In fact, the entire energy sector has seen prices rise by roughly that amount, and we have seen gains across the board in both base metals and all agricultural products.  In other words, stuff costs more.

Perhaps, of more concern is the insouciance toward inflation shown by the Fed.  For example, just yesterday, SF Fed President Mary Daly, when asked about inflation getting out of hand replied, “I don’t think that’s a risk we should think about right now.  We should be less fearful about inflation around the corner and recognize that fear costs millions of jobs.”  If you think the Fed is going to respond to any inflation data, anytime soon, you are mistaken.  They have made it very clear that the only part of their mandate that currently matters is employment.

So, let’s recap; the price of stuff is going higher while the Fed is adamant that tighter policy is inappropriate at this time.  Bonds are doing their job, or perhaps that is; the bond vigilantes are doing their job.  They are forcing yields higher, and left unabated, probably have much further to go.  But will they be left unabated?  I think the definitive answer is, no, the Fed will not allow Treasury yields to rise very much further.  And this, of course, drives my view that the dollar, while strong now, will eventually reverse course, as the Fed halts the rise in Treasury yields.

But for now, those higher yields are attracting investors into dollar products, and by extension, into dollars.  And this story can play out for a while yet.  It is a mug’s game to try to guess at what point the Fed will become uncomfortable with Treasury yields, with current guesses ranging from 1.50% to 3.0% in the 10-year.  My sense is it will be toward the lower end of that range that will encourage the extension and expansion of QE, perhaps 1.75%-2.0%.  But I remain confident that at some point, they will respond.  And with inflation showing no signs of abating, it will happen sooner than you think.

What about the rest of the world?  Well, the one thing we know is that neither the ECB nor the BOJ can afford for their currencies to strengthen too much.  While Japan has shown more stoicism lately, I can easily envision Madame Lagarde, in the context of alleged lack of inflationary pressures, pushing the ECB to expand their largesse as well, at least enough to try to offset the Fed.  Will it work?  That, of course, is the $64 trillion question.

On to today’s activity.  Risk is under a bit of pressure this morning after what were truly impressive bond market declines yesterday.  but those declines were not so much risk on, as fear starting to spread.  So, a quick tour of equity markets shows that after a mixed US session, the Nikkei shed 0.6% overnight, although the Hang Seng managed a 1.1% gain.  Shanghai reopens tonight.  In Europe, screens are red wit the DAX (-0.55%) leading the way lower, although the CAC (flat) and the FTSE 100 (-0.1%) are not suffering that greatly.  Meanwhile, at this hour, US futures are essentially unchanged.

Bond yields, which rose sharply around the world yesterday (11bps in the US, 5-8bps throughout Europe) are consolidating a bit.  Treasuries are lower by 1.9 basis points, but they have already backed up from earlier levels.  In Europe, we see the same thing, where early yield declines have been virtually erased.  Bunds are flat, OATs are higher by 0.6bps and Gilts, one of the worst performers yesterday, have seen yields fall 1.0bp, but that is well off the levels earlier this morning. The point is, even if equities are under pressure, funds don’t appear to be flowing into bonds.

Rather, commodities are the market of choice, with oil now above $60/bbl (+1.0%) and base metals higher along with almost all agricultural products.  In fact, the only real laggards here are gold (-0.3%) and silver (-0.5%), which are arguably suffering from higher yields as a competitor.

Finally, the dollar is definitely feeling its oats this morning, rising against all its G10 brethren, with the weakest link SEK (-0.45%), although other than CAD (-0.1%) and JPY (-0.05%), the rest of the bloc is lower by at least 0.3%.  This is a broad dollar strength story, with virtually no idiosyncratic national issues to drive things.  In fact, the only data of note was UK inflation, which printed a tick higher than expected.

Emerging market currencies are similarly under pressure across the board, led lower by ZAR (-0.8%) and MXN (-0.8%), although there is broad weakness in APAC and CE4 currencies as well.  Again, one needn’t look too far afield to determine why these currencies are weak, it is simply a dollar strength day.

On the data front, we start the morning with Retail Sales (exp 1.1%, 1.0% ex autos), move on to IP (0.4%) and Capacity Utilization (74.8%) and finish the afternoon with the FOMC Minutes from the January meeting.  It seems hard to believe that the Minutes will have much impact as there were neither policy shifts nor even dissension in the ranks. Perhaps we will learn if YCC or QE extension has been a discussion topic, which would be hugely bond bullish and dollar bearish.  But I doubt it.

Rather, this dollar rebound, much to my surprise, seems to have a little more behind it and could well extend a bit further.  Looking at the euro, the technicians will focus on 1.2000, the 100-day moving average and 1.1950, the low touched in last week’s sell-off.  But if the Treasury curve continues to steepen, the euro could well move back to the 1.1750 level last seen prior to the US election in November.  That is not my base case, but the probability has certainly grown lately.

Good luck and stay safe

The EU Will Succumb

Said Boris, the time has now come
To exit ‘neath Parliament’s thumb
I spoke to the Queen
She sees what I mean
And soon the EU will succumb

Prorogue: verb
1: defer, postpone
2: to terminate a session of (something, such as a British parliament) by royal prerogative

I thought it would be useful to offer a definition of this word as it will certainly be in the news for the next few weeks. In fact, every year there is a prorogation of parliament in September as MP’s, after returning from their summer holidays need time to prepare for and attend their party conferences. The idea is that parliament is officially closed, but it has not been dissolved, thus there is no requirement for a new election.

What makes things different this year, of course, is Brexit. Boris has asked the queen to prorogate parliament for one additional week, until October 14 when she is slated to give the Queen’s Speech, which traditionally opens the new session. If this request is granted, the result is that parliament will not be in session, and therefore unable to create legislation to block a no-deal Brexit, until just two weeks before the deadline. Naturally MP’s are up in arms over the decision as those seeking to block a no-deal Brexit suddenly find themselves with fewer options. Personally, however, I think it is a brilliant move to put more pressure on the EU. Undoubtedly the EU is counting on parliament to override Boris’s stated intention of leaving with no deal if one cannot be found by the current deadline. Suddenly, this avenue has been closed off and the EU is now that much closer to feeling significant pain for which they have not planned.

To highlight the situation, the German Institute for Economic Research, or DIW, has just put forth its latest forecast for Q3 GDP growth in Germany at -0.2%. If correct, and they have an excellent track record, that means the last four quarters of GDP in Germany will have been -0.1%, 0.0%, -0.1% -0.2%. I don’t know about you, but that looks like a recession to me. With that as the backdrop, a hard Brexit, where German autos would suddenly be subject to a 10% tariff in the UK thus resulting in reduced demand in Germany’s third largest market, will be very tough to swallow. While there are those who claim Boris would be irresponsible to allow the damage to the UK economy by leaving with no deal, it is just as easy to describe Chancellor Merkel as irresponsible to not drive forward a deal rather than subject Germany to further, unnecessary pain. As I said, I think it is a brilliant move on PM Johnson’s part.

Of course, FX traders being what they are, see only the trees, not the forest, and so the pound has sold off sharply this morning, at one point trading lower by 1.1% although as I type it is down 0.7% at 1.2200. Nothing has changed regarding the pound’s reliance on the Brexit outcome and a hard Brexit will almost certainly result in a sharp, short-term decline, likely toward 1.10, while a deal will result in a sharp rebound, possibly back to the 1.35 level. My money is on a last minute deal and a rebound.

Away from Brexit, the other really big story is the more definitive instance of the 2yr-10yr yield curve inversion. Prior to yesterday’s session, that inversion had been, at most, 1bp and only for a few hours intraday. However, last night we closed at a 5bp inversion and we are watching overall yields fall sharply. This morning 30yr Treasury yields have reached new historic lows at 1.92%. Bunds are also seeing significant demand with the 10yr there seeing its yield fall to -0.72%, also a new historic low. Arguably, yesterday’s late equity market decline was a response to the steeper inversion and if the inversion goes further, I imagine equity markets will decline as well.

With risk being set aside across most markets, the dollar continues to be a main beneficiary. Looking at the dollar’s performance this month, only three currencies have outperformed the greenback, the yen (+1.5%), the Swiss franc (+1.0%) and the pound (+0.7%). The first two are clearly haven assets, while the pound happens to be slightly higher based on the fluctuations in thought around the Brexit outcome. Otherwise, the dollar reigns supreme against both G10 and EMG currencies. In fairness, though, the euro is essentially unchanged on the month as market participants are still trying to decide whether it exhibits haven characteristics and can be a substitute for the dollar, or whether it should be considered part of the masses. Given the interest rate structure in the Eurozone, my view remains weakness ahead, but certainly that is not a given.

An interesting aside has been the beginnings of a discussion by pundits and policymakers that the dollar’s strength is hurting other nations as well, and that a concerted effort to push it down may be appropriate. Consider that there are trillions of outstanding USD debt issued by countries and companies throughout the emerging markets and as the dollar rises, their ability to repay and refinance that debt is made increasingly difficult. Large scale debt defaults will not be a boon for global economic activity and so one solution is to drive the dollar lower and prevent those defaults from occurring. While it is still early days, listen closely as this idea gains credence, because if it does it will certainly help slow the dollar’s rise.

As to the rest of today’s session, there is no US data today, although tomorrow starts a run of important info. We do, however, hear from two Fed speakers, Daly and Barkin, the former being quite the dove while the latter is more middle-of-the-road. And we cannot forget about the Italian political negotiations as 5-Star and the Democratic Party (funnily enough it is a center right party in Italy) try to agree on the terms of a government to prevent new elections. Trade? Yeah, it’s still there but there is nothing new on that front to move things. In the end, I see no reason for the dollar to retreat yet.

Good luck

Called Into Question

A key market gauge of recession,
The yield curve, has called into question
Growth’s pace up ahead
And whether the Fed
Will restart financial repression

While markets this morning have stopped falling, there is no question that investors are on heightened alert. Yesterday saw further declines in the major stock indices and a continuation of the dollar’s rally alongside demand for Treasuries and Bunds. Today’s pause is hardly enough to change the predominant current view which can best be summed up as, AAAAGGGHHHH!

In the Treasury market, 10-year yields reached their steepest inversion vs. 3-month yields, 14bps, since 2007. While many pundits and analysts focus on the 2-year vs. 10-year spread, which remains slightly positive, the Fed itself has published research showing the 3-month vs. 10-year spread is a better indicator of future recessions. So the combination of fears over a drawn out trade war between the US and China and ongoing uncertainty in Europe given the Brexit drama and the uptick in tensions between Italy and the European Commission regarding Italy’s mooted budget, have been enough to send many investors hunting for the safest assets they can find. In this classic risk-off scenario, the fact that the dollar and the yen remain the currencies of choice is no surprise.

But let’s unpack the stories to see if the fear is warranted. On the trade front, every indication of late is that both sides are preparing for a much longer conflict. Just this morning China halted all imports of US soybeans. The other chatter of note is the idea that the Chinese may soon halt shipments of rare-earth metals to US industry, an act that would have significant negative consequences for the US manufacturing capability in the technology and aerospace industries. Of course, the US ban on Huawei and its increased pressure to prevent any allies from buying their equipment strikes at the heart of China’s attempts to move up the value chain in manufacturing. All told, until the G20 meeting in about a month’s time, I cannot foresee any thaw in this battle, and so expect continued negative consequences for the market.

As to Brexit, given the timing is that there won’t be a new Prime Minister until September, it seems that very little will happen in this arena. After all, Boris Johnson is already the favorite and is on record as saying a hard Brexit suits him just fine. While my personal view is that the probability of that outcome is more than 30%, I am in the minority. In fact, I would argue the analyst community, although not yet the market, is coalescing around the idea that no Brexit at all has become the most likely outcome. We have heard more and more MP’s talk about a willingness to hold a second referendum and current polls show Remain well ahead in that event. Of course, the FX market has not embraced that view as evidenced by the fact the pound remains within spitting distance of its lowest levels in more than two years.

Finally, the resurrection of the Italy story is the newest addition to the market’s menu of pain, and this one seems like it has more legs. Remarkably, the European Commission, headed by Jean-Claude Juncker, is demanding that Italy reduce its fiscal spending by 1.5% of GDP despite the fact that it is just emerging from a recession and growth this year is forecast to be only 0.3%. This is remarkable given the Keynesian bent of almost all global policymakers. Meanwhile, Matteo Salvini, the leader of the League whose power is growing after his party had a very strong showing in last week’s EU elections, has categorically rejected that policy prescription.

But of more interest is the fact that the Italian Treasury is back to discussing the issuance of ‘minibots’ which are essentially short-term Italian notes used by the government to pay contractors, and which will be able to trade in the market as a parallel currency to the euro. While they will be completely domestic, they represent a grave threat to the sanctity of the single currency and will not be lightly tolerated by the ECB or any other Eurozone government. And yet, it is not clear what the rest of Europe can do to stop things. The threat of a fine is ludicrous, especially given that Italy’s budget deficit is forecast to be smaller than France’s, where no threats have been made. The thing is, introduction of a parallel currency is a step into the unknown, and one that, in the short-term, is likely to weigh on the euro significantly. However, longer term, if Italy, which is generally perceived as one of the weaker links in the Eurozone, were to leave, perhaps that would strengthen the remaining bloc on a macroeconomic basis and the euro with it.

With that as background, it is no surprise that investors have been shunning risk. While this morning markets are rebounding slightly, with equity indices higher by a few tenths of a percent and Treasury yields higher by 3bps, the trend remains firmly in the direction of less risk not more.

The final question to be asked is, how will the Fed respond to this widening array of economic issues? Arguably, they will continue to focus on the US story, which while slowing, remains the least problematic of the major economies. At least that has been the case thus far. But today we have the opportunity to change things. Data this morning includes the first revision of Q1 GDP (exp 3.1%) as well as Initial Claims (215K) and the Goods Trade Balance (-$72.0B) at 8:30. There are concerns that the Q1 data falls below 3.0% which would not only be politically inconvenient, but perhaps a harbinger of a faster slowdown in Q2. Then, throughout the next week we get a significant run of data culminating in the payroll report next Friday. So, for now, the Fed is going to be watching closely, as will all market participants.

The predominant view remains that growth around the world is slowing and that the next easing cycle is imminent (fed funds futures are pricing in 3 rate cuts by the end of 2020!) However, Fed commentary has not backed up that view as yet. We will need to see the data to have a better idea, but for now, with risk still being shunned, the dollar should remain bid overall.

Good luck