Animal Spirits Were Stirred

All week from the Fed we have heard
That patience is their new watchword
The market’s reaction
Implied satisfaction
And animal spirits were stirred!

While it may be a new day, nothing has really changed. Yesterday we heard from both Chairman Powell and vice-Chairman Clarida and both said essentially the same thing: the Fed is watching both the economy and markets closely, and given where policy rates currently stand, they can afford to be patient before acting next. On the subject of the Fed’s balance sheet, neither indicated there was cause for a policy change, but Powell, when asked, remarked that if they thought the shrinking balance sheet was becoming a problem, they would not hesitate to adjust policy. The market interpretation was: the Fed is not going to raise rates anytime soon so we better buy stocks as quickly as we can. The result was yet another rally in equities with all three US market indices rising about 0.5% on the day. At this point, even the Fed must recognize that they have gotten their message across.

The next key story that remains ongoing is the trade situation between the US and China. There was no specific news on the subject and no comments from either side. The market view is that there was clearly some progress made during the initial discussions earlier this week and many people are optimistic that the next round of talks, which will include more senior representatives from both sides, can lead to a permanent resolution. As long as that remains the collective mindset, it is one less pressure point for global equity markets. However, it must be remembered that the US is seeking significant changes in the structure of the Chinese economy, and so a complete resolution will not be easy to achieve, especially in the accelerated timeline currently extant. I expect an extension of the timeline as the first concrete result.

The third key story has been Brexit, which continues to be a complete mess. Next week’s Parliamentary vote looks destined to fail, and now there is a growing movement for the deadline to be extended three months to the end of June. While that requires a unanimous vote to do so, comments from European members seem to be heading in that direction. The pound has benefitted from the discussion, as traders believe that the extra three months will help alleviate the risk of a no-deal Brexit and the forecast consequences on both the economy and the currency in that event. However, the Irish border remains unchanged and there has been no indication that the UK will accept an effective walling off of Northern Ireland for the sake of the deal. We shall see.

Two other stories are also gaining in their importance, the rebound in oil prices and further weakness in the Eurozone economy. As to the first, the OPEC agreement to cut production by 1.2 million barrels/day has served to remove fears of an oil glut and recent inventory figures have backed that up. As well, while WTI has traded back above $50/bbl, there is a growing belief that the US fracking community is not going to be able to produce as much oil as previously thought, especially if prices slip back below that $50 level. Oil prices have rallied for nine consecutive days but remain far below levels seen just last October. Historically, rising commodity prices have gone hand in hand with a declining dollar, and for right now, that correlation has been holding.

Finally, we continue to see weak economic data from the Eurozone, with this morning’s Italian IP data (-1.6% in Nov) the latest in a string that has shown Europe’s manufacturing sector is under increasing pressure. This story is the one that has received shortest shrift from the market overall. In fact, I would argue it has been completely ignored, certainly by FX traders. While everyone focuses intently on the Fed and the recent change of heart regarding future rate hikes, there has been almost no discussion with regard to the ECB and how, as economic growth continues to slow in the Eurozone, the idea that they will be tightening policy further come September is laughable. At some point, the market will realize that the Eurozone is in no position to normalize policy further, and that instead, the question will arise as to when they will seek to add more stimulus. My gut tells me that a change in forward guidance will be the first step as they extend the concept of rate hikes from; “not until the end of summer” to something along the lines of “when we deem appropriate based on the economic data”. In other words, the current negative rate regime will be indefinite, and if (when) the next recession arrives, look for a reintroduction of QE there. My point is that the euro has no business rallying in any substantive way.

With all of this as background, a quick tour of markets shows that while the dollar actually performed fairly well during the US session yesterday, it is giving back some of those gains this morning. For example, the euro, despite weak data, is higher by 0.3%. The pound, on the back of the renewed Brexit deal hope is higher by 0.5%. Firmer commodity prices have helped AUD (+0.6%), NZD (+0.9%) and CAD (+0.3%). But the biggest consistent winner of late has been CNY, which has rallied a further 0.65% overnight and is now up 1.6% this week. This is a far cry from the situation just a few weeks ago, when there were concerns the yuan might break through the 7.00 level. Two things come to mind here as to the cause. The first possibility is that there has been an increase in investment flows into the Chinese bond market, where yields remain higher than in much of the developed world, and the Chinese bond market is slowly being added to global bond indices requiring fund managers to add positions there. The second, slightly more conspiratorial idea is that the Chinese government is pushing the yuan higher during the trade negotiations with the US to insure that its value is not seen as an impediment to reaching any deal. Whatever you think of President Trump’s tactics, there is no question that the Chinese economy has come under increased pressure since the imposition of US tariffs on their exports. It is not hard to believe that the stronger yuan is a direct response to help reach an agreement as quickly as possible.

And that’s pretty much everything to watch today. This morning we get CPI data with expectations for headline to print at -0.1% (1.9% Y/Y) and ex food & energy to print at +0.2% (2.2% Y/Y). Thankfully there are no more Fed speakers, but I would say given the near unanimity of the message from the nine speakers this week, we have a pretty good idea of what they are thinking. Equity futures are pointing slightly lower following European markets, which are softer today. However, given that equity markets around the world have rallied steadily all week, it can be no real surprise that a little profit taking is happening on a Friday. As to the dollar, in the short term I think it remains under pressure, but over time, I continue to see more reasons to own it than to short it.

Good luck and good weekend
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Greater Clarity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck
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Little Trust

Investors and traders believe
The trade talks will shortly achieve
Solutions robust
Despite little trust
Since both sides are known to deceive

Risk is definitely back on this morning as equity markets around the world continue their recent rebound, Treasury and bund prices slide, and commodities climb higher. As to the dollar, it is modestly softer, except against the yen, which is the worst performer in the G10 today.

The primary driver of these moves remains the US-China trade talks, which seem to be going pretty well. If you recall, Monday, Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He made an appearance to demonstrate the importance of the talks to both sides’ negotiators, and the fact that they were extended an extra day, only ending today in Beijing, implies that positive momentum was building and neither side wanted to give that up. While the first reports are that there are still some areas of wide disagreement, there seems to be no doubt that progress has been made.

In addition to the trade story, the market continues to hear soothing words from various Fed speakers regarding the pace of further potential rate hikes. Yesterday, St. Louis Fed President Bullard was quite clear that he thought there was no reason to raise rates further at this time given the lack of measured inflation, although he remains comfortable with the continuing unwinding of the balance sheet. And Bullard is a voter this year, so market participants tend to give voters just a little more credence in their comments. Later this afternoon the Fed will release the Minutes of their December meeting, although I don’t expect them to be that useful. You may recall that it was that meeting’s statement and the ensuing press conference that kicked off the last leg of the equity market rout. Investors kept seeing signs of slowing growth while the Fed seemed oblivious, especially to activity elsewhere in the world. In fact, it was that meeting that convinced many (myself included) that the Fed was no longer in the put writing business.

How wrong we all were on that score. We have heard from a half dozen Fed speakers in the past two weeks, including some of the most hawkish (Mester), and to a (wo)man they all indicated that there was no urgency to raise rates, with some, like Bullard, questioning if there was even a need to do so at all. Clearly, the market has become far more comfortable that the Fed is not out to destroy the equity market, and recent price action is the result of that change of view. Given the change of tone since the meeting, it seems unlikely to me that the Minutes will teach us very much about the current state of Fed thinking. Instead, we still have another eight Fed speeches (including another Powell speech) between today and Friday, which will give us all much better information than three-week old data.

Other news of note includes the announcement overnight by the PBOC that they would be instituting a new bank lending program, the Medium Term Lending Facility (MTLF) which is designed to offer cheap bank funding for loans to SME’s without overly expanding the liquidity in the market. Remember, the Chinese are still trying to wring excess leverage out of some sectors of the economy, but are also feeling the effects of overall slowing economic growth so feel the need to address that. These loans appear quite similar to the ECB’s TLTRO’s, which were deemed a big success when they were being issued. Of course, the key concern there is now that those loans are coming up to maturity, banks need to replace that funding and that is not so easy in a market where global liquidity is drying up. Will the same thing happen in China? Quite possibly. My observation on extraordinary monetary policy is that it has proven much harder to remove than to implement.

At any rate, the market was cheered by that news, as well as the trade talks, and the renminbi continues to behave quite well, actually rallying a further 0.2% this morning. I still foresee a weaker currency over time, but thus far, the PBOC has prevented any substantive movement.

Brexit continues to fester in the background with PM May losing another vote in Parliament. This new bill now prevents Her Majesty’s Treasury from adjusting tax rates in the event of a no-deal Brexit. And yet, there is no indication that the deal on the table is going to pass, so it remains unclear just how that will work. Given the magnitude of the issue, waiting to the 11th hour to achieve agreement may be the only way to get it done. And so, I continue to expect a very late acceptance of the deal, although it is by no means clear that will be the case. One other noteworthy Brexit item is the potential impact it will have on Japanese companies, who have used the UK as their beachhead into the EU. PM Abe will be visiting PM May tomorrow to make sure she understands how important a trade deal is to those Japanese firms, and how important those Japanese firms are to the UK economy.

And otherwise, the currency market remains fairly dull for right now. Even EMG currencies are only showing modest movement overall, albeit generally stronger today. The thing is, market participants are so focused on the major issues, and by extension the major currencies, that there has been reduced activity elsewhere. As long as risk appetite remains robust, the dollar should remain under pressure along with the yen. And for today, that seems like the best bet.

Good luck
Adf

A Year So Dreary

(With apologies to Edgar Allen Poe)

‘Eighteen was a year so dreary, traders studied hara-kiri
As they pondered every theory, algorithm and z-score.
Interest rates were slowly rising, growth no longer synchronizing,
Brexit’s failures mesmerizing, plus we got a real trade war
Italy, meanwhile explained that budget limits were a bore
Europe looked aghast and swore.

Thus instead of markets booming, (which most pundits were assuming)
What we got was all consuming angst too great to just ignore
Equities reduced to rubble, high-yield bonds saw their spreads double
As the Fed inspired bubble sprung a leak through the back door
Balance sheet adjustment proved to be more harsh than heretofore
Stock investors cussed and swore.

But the New Year’s now commencing, with the markets’, trouble, sensing
Thus predictions I’m dispensing might not be what you wished for
Life’s not likely to get better, ‘specially for the leveraged debtor
Who ought write an open letter to Chair Powell and implore
Him to stop his raising rates so assets grow just like before
Would that he would raise no more.

Pundits far and wide all wonder if Chair Powell’s made a blunder
Or if he will knuckle under to entreaties from offshore
Sadly for mainstream investors, lest our growth decays and festers
Powell will ignore protestors though they’ll raise a great uproar
Thus far he has made it clear that neutral’s what he’s shooting for
Jay, I fear, sees two hikes more.

At the same time Signor Draghi, who’s EU is weak and groggy
Using words in no way foggy, told us QE’s dead, he swore!
Plus he strongly recommended that when summer, this year, ended
Raising rates would be just splendid for those nations at the core
Even though the PIGS keep struggling, this he’s willing to ignore
Higher rates might be in store.

Lately, though, are growing rumors, that six billion world consumers
Are no longer in good humors, thus are buying less, not more
This result should be concerning for those bankers who are yearning
Rates to tighten, overturning years when rates were on the floor
Could it be what we will see is QE4 as an encore?
Maybe low rates are called for.

What about the budget shortfall, in the States that’s sure to snowball
If our growth rate has a pratfall like it’s done ten times before?
While this would be problematic, growth elsewhere would crash to static
Thus it would be quite pragmatic to assume the buck will soar
Don’t believe those euro bulls that think rate hikes there are in store
Christmas next we’re One-Oh-Four.

Now to Britain where the story of its Brexit’s been so gory
Leaving Labour and the Tories in an all out civic war
Though the deal that’s on the table, has its flaws, it would help cable
But when PM May’s unable to find votes here’s what’s in store
Look for cable to go tumbling well below its lows of yore
Next December, One-One-Four.

Time to focus on the East, where China’s growth just might have ceased
Or slowed quite sharply at the least, from damage due to Trump’s trade war
Xi, however’s not fainthearted, and more ease he has imparted
Trying to get growth restarted, which is really quite a chore
But with leverage so extended, how much more can they pay for?
Not as much as days of yore.

With growth there now clearly slowing, public cash is freely flowing,
Banks are told, be easygoing, toward the Chinese firms onshore
But the outcome’s not conclusive, and the only thing conducive
To success for Xi is use of weakness in the yuan offshore
I expect a steady drift much lower to Seven point Four
Only this and nothing more.

Now it’s time for analyzing, ten-year yields, so tantalizing
With inflation hawks advising that those yields will jump once more
But inflation doves are banking that commodities keep tanking
Helping bonds and Bunds when ranking outcomes, if you’re keeping score
Here the doves have better guidance and the price of bonds will soar
At what yields will they sell for?

Slowing growth and growing fear will help them both throughout the year
And so it’s not too cavalier to look for lower yields in store
Treasuries will keep on rising, and for now what I’m surmising
Is a yield of Two point Five is likely come Aught Twenty’s door
Bunds will see their yields retreat to Zero, that’s right, to the floor
Lower ten-year yields, look for.

In a world where growth is slowing, earnings data won’t be glowing
Red ink will, for sure, be flowing which investors can’t ignore
P/E ratios will suffer, and most firms will lack a buffer
Which means things will just get tougher for investors than before
What of central banks? Won’t they be able, prices, to restore?
Not this time, not like before.

In the States what I foresee is that the large cap S&P
Can fall to Seventeen Fifty by year end next, if not before
Europe’s like to see the same, the Stoxx 600 getting maimed
Two Fifty is where I proclaim that index will next year explore
Large percentage falls in both are what investors all abhor
But its what I see in store.

Oil’s price of late’s been tumbling, which for drillers has been humbling
OPEC meanwhile keeps on fumbling, each chance to, its strength, restore
But with global growth now slowing, storage tanks are overflowing
Meanwhile tankers, oceangoing, keep on pumping ship to shore
And more drilling in the States means lower prices are in store
Forty bucks I now call for.

One more thing I ought consider, Bitcoin, which had folks on Twitter
Posting many Tweets quite bitter as it tumbled ever more
Does this coin have true potential? Will it become influential?
In debates quite consequential ‘bout where assets you may store?
While the blockchain is important, Hodlers better learn the score
Bitcoin… folks won’t pay much for

So instead come winter next, Bitcoin Hodlers will be vexed
As it suffers from effects of slowing growth they can’t ignore
While it might be worth Two Grand, the end result is that demand
For Bitcoin will not soon expand, instead its like to shrink some more
Don’t be fooled in thinking you’ll soon use it at the grocery store
Bitcoin… folks won’t pay much for

Fin’lly here’s an admonition, if these views do reach fruition
Every single politician will blame someone else for sure
I’m not hoping for this outcome, I just fear the depths we might plumb
Will result in falling income and recession we’ll explore
So if risk you’re managing, more hedging now is what’s called for
Fear and risk are what will soar!

For you folks who’ve reached the end, please know I seek not to offend
But rather try to comprehend the state of markets and some more
If you read my thoughts last year, I tried to make it very clear
That economic trouble’s near, and so that caution is called for
Mostly though I hope the time invested has not made you sore
For you, my readers, I adore!

Have a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year
Adf

 

Naught But Fool’s Gold

There once was a story, oft told
That growth round the world would be bold
But data of late
Has shown that the fate
Of that tale was naught but fool’s gold

Instead round the world what we see
Are signs that the future will be
Somewhat less robust
Than had been discussed
Since money is no longer free!

The dollar is strong this morning, rising vs. essentially every other currency after a series of weak data points from China and the EU reinforced the idea that global growth is slowing. As I type my last note of the year, the euro is lower by 0.65%, the pound -0.7% and Aussie has fallen -0.9%. In the emerging market space, the damage is generally less severe, with both CNY and BRL falling -0.4% while MXN and INR have both slipped -0.3%. There are two notable exceptions to this, however, as ZAAR has tumbled 1.5% and KRW fallen -0.8%. In other words, the dollar is in the ascendant today.

What, you may ask, is driving this movement? It started early last evening when China released some closely watched economic indicators, all of which disappointed and indicated further slowing of the economy there. Fixed Asset Investment rose just 5.9%, IP rose just 5.4% and Retail Sales rose just 8.1%. As Chinese data continue to fall below estimates, it increases the odds that the PBOC will ease monetary policy further, thus undermining the renminbi somewhat. But the knock on effect of weakening Chinese growth is that the rest of Asia, which relies on China as a key market for their exports, will also suffer. Hence the sharp decline in AUD and NZD (-1.0%), along with KRW and the rest of the APAC currencies. It certainly appears as though the trade tensions with the US are having a deleterious effect on the Chinese economy, and that may well be the reason that we have heard of more concessions on their part in the discussions. Today’s story is that corn purchases will be restarting in January, yet another rollback of Chinese trade barriers.

But it was not just China that undermined the global growth story; Eurozone data was equally dismal in the form of PMI releases. In this case, Germany’s Manufacturing PMI printed at 51.5, France at 49.7 and the Eurozone as a whole at 51.4. Each of these was substantially below expectations and point to Q4 growth in the Eurozone slowing further. While the French story is directly related to the ongoing gilets jaune protests, Germany is a bigger issue. If you recall, Q3 growth there was negative (-0.2%) but was explained away as a one-off problem related to retooling auto plants for emissions changes in regulations. However, the data thus far in Q4 have not shown any substantive improvement and now call into question the idea that a Q4 rebound will even occur, let alone offset the weak Q3 data.

Adding to the Eurozone questions is the fact that the ECB yesterday confirmed it was ending QE this month, although it has explained that it will be maintaining the size of the balance sheet for “an extended period of time” after its first interest rate rise. Currently, the market is pricing in an ECB rate hike for September 2019, but I am very skeptical. The fact that Signor Draghi characterized economic risks as to the downside rather than balanced should come as no surprise (they are) but calls into question why they ended QE. Adding to the confusion is the fact that the ECB reduced its forecasts for both growth and inflation for 2018 and 2019, hardly the backdrop to be tightening policy. In the end, much of this was expected, although Draghi’s tone at the press conference was clearly more dovish than had been anticipated, and the euro fell all day yesterday and has continued on this morning in the wake of the weak data. And this doesn’t even include the Italian budget mess where Italy’s latest figures show a smaller deficit despite no adjustments in either spending or taxes. Magical thinking for sure!

Meanwhile, the UK continues to hurtle toward a hard Brexit as PM May was rebuffed by the EU in her attempts to gain some conciliatory language to bring back to her Parliament. While I don’t believe in the apocalyptic projections being made about the UK economy come April 1st next year, I do believe that the market will severely punish the pound when it becomes clear there will be no deal, which is likely to be some time in January.

As to the US-China trade situation, this morning there is more fear of tariffs by the US, but the negotiation is ongoing. Funnily enough, my reading of the signs is that China is, in fact, blinking here and beginning to make some concessions. The last thing President Xi can afford is for the Chinese economy to slow sharply and put millions of young men out of work. Historically, excessive unemployed youth can lead to revolution, a situation he will seek to avoid at all costs. If it means he must spin some concessions to the US into a story of strengthening the Chinese economy, that is what he will do. It would certainly be ironic if President Trump’s hardball negotiating tactics turned out to be successful in opening up the Chinese economy and broadly pushing forward a more internationalist agenda, but arguably, it cannot be ruled out. Consider the ramifications on the political debate in the US if that were to be the case!! As to the market implications, I would expect that risk would be quickly embraced, equity markets would rally sharply as would the dollar, while expectations for the Fed would revert to tighter policy in 2019 and beyond. Treasuries, on the other hand, would fall sharply and yields on the 10-year would likely test their highs from early November. We shall see.

This morning brings Retail Sales (exp 0.2%, ex autos 0.2%), IP (0.3%) and Capacity Utilization (78.6%). Data that continues to show the US growing, especially in the wake of the weakness seen elsewhere in the world, should continue to underpin the dollar going forward. While I understand the structural issues like the massive budget and current account deficits should lead to dollar weakness, we are still in a cyclical phase of the market, and the US remains the best place to be for investment, so it remains premature to write off further dollar strength.

Good luck, good weekend and happy holidays to you all.

FX Poetry will return on January 2nd with forecasts for next year, and in regular format starting January 3rd.

Adf

 

QE He’ll Dismember

The head of the Fed, Chairman Jay
Implied there might be a delay
In how far the Fed
Will push rates ahead
Lest policy does go astray

Meanwhile, his Euro counterpart,
Herr Draghi’s had no change of heart
He claims, come December
QE he’ll dismember
Despite slower growth in Stuttgart

In what can only be seen as quite a twist on the recent storylines, Wednesday’s US CPI data was soft enough to give pause to Chairman Powell as in two consecutive speeches he highlighted the fact that the US economy is facing some headwinds now, and that may well change the rate trajectory of the Fed. While there was no indication of any change coming in December, where a 25bp rate hike is baked in, there is much more discussion about only two rate hikes next year, rather than the at least three that had been penciled in by the Fed itself back in September. Powell mentioned the slowing growth story internationally, as well as the winding down of fiscal stimulus as two potential changes to the narrative. Finally, given that the Fed has already raised rates seven times, he recognized that the lagged effects of the Fed’s own policies may well lead to slower growth. The dollar has had difficulty maintaining its bid from the past several weeks, and this is clearly the primary story driving that change of heart.

At the same time, Signor Draghi, in a speech this morning, reiterated that the risks to growth in the Eurozone were “balanced”, his code word to reassure the market that though recent data was soft, the ECB is going to end QE in December, and as of now, raise rates next September. Now, there is a long time between now and next September, and it is not hard to come up with some scenarios whereby the Eurozone economy slows much more rapidly. For example, the combination of a hard Brexit and increased US tariffs on China could easily have a significant negative impact on the Eurozone economy, undermining the recent growth story as well as the recent (alleged) inflation story. For now, Draghi insists that all is well, but at some point, if the data doesn’t cooperate, then the ECB will be forced to change its tune. His comments have helped support the euro modestly today, but the euro’s value is a scant 0.1% higher than its close yesterday.

Adding to the anxiety in the market overall is the quickening collapse of the Brexit situation, where it seems the math is getting much harder for PM May to get the just agreed deal through Parliament. Yesterday’s sharp decline in the pound, more than 1.5%, has been followed by a modest rebound, but that seems far more likely to be a trading event rather than a change of heart on the fundamentals. In my view, there are many more potential negatives than positives likely to occur in the UK at this point. A hard Brexit, a Tory rebellion ousting May, and even snap elections with the chance for a PM Corbyn all would seem to have negative overtones for the pound. The only thing, at this time, that can support the currency is if May somehow gets her deal agreed in Parliament. It feels like a low probability outcome, and that implies that the pound will be subject to more sharp declines over time.

Pivoting to the Emerging markets, the trade story with China continues to drive equity markets, or at least all the rumors about the trade story do that. While it seems that there are mid-level conversations between the two nations ahead of the scheduled meeting between Trump and Xi later this month, we continue to hear from numerous peanut gallery members about whether tariffs are going to be delayed or increased in size. This morning’s story is no deal is coming and 25% tariffs are on their way come January 1. It is no surprise that equity futures are pointing lower in the US. Look for CNY to soften as well, albeit not significantly so. The movement we saw last week was truly unusual.

Other EMG stories show that Mexico, the Philippines and Indonesia all raised base rates yesterday, although the currency impacts were mixed. Mexico’s was widely anticipated, so the 0.5% decline this morning seems to be a “sell the news” reaction. The Philippines surprised traders, however, and their peso was rewarded with a 0.5% rally. Interestingly, Bank Indonesia was not widely expected to move, but the rupiah has actually suffered a little after the rate hike. Go figure.

Yesterday’s US data arguably leaned to the strong side with only the Philly Fed number disappointing while Empire State and Retail Sales were both quite strong. This morning brings IP (exp 0.2%) and Capacity Utilization (78.2%), although these data points typically don’t impact the FX market.

As the week comes to a close, it appears the dollar is going to remain under some pressure on the back of the newly evolving Fed narrative regarding a less aggressive monetary policy. However, if we see a return of more severe equity market weakness, the dollar remains the haven of choice, and a reversal of the overnight moves can be expected.

Good luck and good weekend
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A Too Bitter Pill

Three stories today are of note
First, Italy’s rocking the boat
Next Brexit is still
A too bitter pill
While OPEC, a cut soon may vote

The outcome in all of these cases
Has been that the market embraces
The dollar once more
(It’s starting to soar)
And quite clearly off to the races

On this Veteran’s Day holiday in the US, where bond markets will be closed although equity markets will not, the dollar has shown consistent strength across the board. Interestingly, there have been several noteworthy stories this morning, but each one of them has served to reinforce the idea that the dollar’s oft-forecast demise remains somewhere well into the future.

Starting with Italy, the current government has shown every indication that they are not going to change their budget structure or forecasts despite the EU’s rejection of these assumptions when the budget was first submitted several weeks ago. This sets up the following situation: the EU can hold firm to its fiscal discipline strategy and begin the procedure to sanction Italy and impose a fine for breaking the rules, or the EU can soften its stance and find some compromise that tries to allow both sides to save face, or at least the EU to do so.

The problem with the first strategy is the EU Commission’s fear that it will increase the attraction of antiestablishment parties in the Parliamentary elections due in May. After all, the Italian coalition was elected by blaming all of Italy’s woes on the EU and its policies. The last thing the Commission wants is a more unruly Parliament, especially as the current leadership may find themselves on the sidelines. The problem with the second strategy is that if they don’t uphold their fiscal probity it will be clear, once and for all, that EU fiscal rules are there in name only and have no teeth. This means that going forward, while certain countries will follow them because they think it is proper to do so, many will decide they represent conditions too difficult with which to adhere. Over time, the second option would almost certainly result in the eventual dissolution of the euro, as the problems from having such dramatically different fiscal policies would eventually become too difficult for the ECB to manage.

With this in mind, it is no surprise that the euro is softer again today, down 0.6% and now trading at its lowest level since June 2017. In less than a week it has fallen by more than 2.0% and it looks as though this trend will continue for a while yet. We need to see the Fed soften its stance or something else to change in order to stop this move.

Turning to the UK, the clock to make a deal seems to be ticking ever faster and there is no indication that PM May is going to get one. Over the weekend, there was no progress made regarding the Irish border issue, but we did hear from several important constituents that the PM’s current deal will fail in Parliament. If Labour won’t support it and the DUP won’t support it and the hard-line Brexiteers won’t support it, there is no deal to be had. With this in mind it is no surprise that the pound has suffered greatly this morning, down 1.4% and back well below 1.30. You may recall that around Halloween, the market started to anticipate a Brexit deal and the pound rallied 3.7% in the course of a week. Well, it has since ceded 2.7% of that gain and based on the distinct lack of progress on the talks, it certainly appears that the pound has further to fall. Do not be surprised if the pound trades below its recent lows of 1.2700 and goes on to test the post-Brexit vote lows of 1.1900.

The third story of note is regarding OPEC and oil prices, which have fallen nearly 20% during the past six weeks as US production and inventories continue to climb while the price impact of sanctions on Iran turned out to be much less then expected. This has encouraged speculation that OPEC may cut its production quotas, although the news from various members is mixed. Adding to oil’s woes (and in truth all commodity prices) has been the fact that global growth has been slowing as well, thus reducing underlying demand. In fact, the biggest concern for the market has been the slow down in China, which continues apace and where stories of further policy ease by the PBOC, including interest rate cuts, are starting to be heard. Two things to note are first, the typical inverse correlation between the dollar and commodity prices such that when the dollar rises, commodity prices tend to fall, and second, in line with the dollar’s broad strength, the Chinese yuan has fallen further today, down 0.3%, and pushing back to the levels that inspired calls for a move beyond 7.00 despite concerns over increased capital outflows.

And frankly, those are the stories of note. The dollar is higher vs. pretty much every other currency today, G10 and EMG alike, with no distinction and few other stories that are newsworthy. Looking at the data this week, there are two key releases, CPI and Retail Sales along with a bit of other stuff.

Tuesday NFIB Biz Confidence 108.0
  Monthly Budget -$98.0B
Wednesday CPI 0.3% (2.5% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.2% (2.2% Y/Y)
Thursday Initial Claims 215K
  Philly Fed 20.2
  Empire State 20.0
  Retail Sales 0.5%
  -ex Autos 0.5%
Friday IP 0.2%
  Capacity Utilization 78.2%

Overall, the data continues to support the Fed’s thesis that tighter monetary policy remains the proper course of action. In addition to the data we will hear from three Fed speakers including Chairman Powell on Wednesday. It seems hard to believe that he will have cause to change his tune, so I expect that as long as the rest of the world exhibits more short-term problems like we are seeing today, the dollar will remain quite strong.

Good luck
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