Fundamentals Versus Liquidity

Markets took fright last week. The divergence between what fundamentals are telling us and what markets are doing has widened dramatically, but bulls will say don’t fight the Fed.  However, after an unprecedented run up from the late March lows, equity markets and risk assets appeared to react negatively to a sober assessment of the economic recovery by Fed Chair Powell at last week’s FOMC meeting. News of a renewed increase in Covid-19 infections in several parts of the US against the background of ongoing protests in the country, added to market nervousness.  On Thursday stocks registered their biggest sell off since March but recovered some composure at the end of the week. Volatility has increased and markets are looking far more nervous going into this week.

Exuberance by day traders who have been buying stocks while stuck in lockdown, with not much to do and government pay outs in hand, have been cited as one reason that equities, in particular those that were most beaten up and even in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, have rallied so strongly.  Many (those that prefer to look at fundamentals) believe this will end in tears, comparing the run up in some stocks to what happened just before the tech bubble burst in 2000/01.  The reality is probably somewhat more nuanced.  There’s definitely a lot of liquidity sloshing around, which to some extent is finding itself into the equity market even if the Fed would probably prefer that it went into the real economy.   However, buying stocks that have little intrinsic value is hard to justify and market jitters over the past week could send such investors back to the sidelines.

Stumbling blocks to markets such as concerns about a second wave of virus infections are very real, but the real question is whether this will do any more damage to the economy than has already happened.  In this respect, it seems highly unlikely that a second or even third round of virus cases will result in renewed lockdowns.  Better preparedness in terms of health care, contract tracing, and a general malaise from the public about being locked down, mean that there is no appetite for another tightening in social distancing restrictions.  The result is a likely increase in virus cases, but one that may not do as much economic damage.

Last week’s equity market stumble has helped the US dollar to find its feet again.  After looking oversold according to various technical indicators such as the Relative Strength Index (RSI) the dollar rallied against various currencies recently.  Sentiment for the dollar had become increasingly bearish (overly so in my view), with the sharp decline in US yields , reduced demand for dollars from central banks and companies globally amid an improvement in risk appetite weighing on the currency.  However, I think the dollar is being written off way to quickly.  Likely US economic and asset market outperformance suggests that the US dollar will not go down without a fight.

A Lot Of Moving Parts

There are lot of moving parts driving market sentiment at present.  US economic news has helped to buoy markets this week after US Q3 GDP was revised higher in its second estimate, to 2.1% q/q while October durable goods orders came in stronger than expected.  However, the news that President Trump signed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act after almost unanimous passage in Congress, has fueled some cautious.  Investors now await any retaliation from China and whether the Bill will get in the way of a Phase 1 trade deal.

On the trade front both the US and Chinese governments have said that there are closing in on a Phase 1 deal but as yet there has been no confirmation, with less and less time to agree a deal before the end of the year and more importantly before the next phase of tariffs kicks in on December 15.  One sticking point between the two sides appears to be what extent will the US administration roll back tariffs, with China likely wanting not only the tariffs scheduled to be implemented in mid-December to be rolled back but also the ones implemented in August.

Such a roll back in tariffs would be take place in exchange for increased Chinese purchases of US goods and perhaps stricter intellectual property regulations, but more structural issues such as state subsidies, technology transfers etc may be put back to later deals.  In the meantime markets do not appear overly concerned, with risk assets and equities in particular continuing to rally and volatility continuing to decline.  If there is no deal announced in the weeks ahead, markets could face a set back, but if agreement on a deal is to be merely pushed back into Q1 2020, the damage will be limited.

After its sharp fall over October the US dollar has gradually clawed back ground over recent weeks, helped by US asset market outperformance and consequently strong inflows into US assets.  As we move towards the end of the year it appears that the USD will maintain its top spot, much to the chagrin of the US administration and their preference for a weaker USD.

Catching a falling knife

After a very long absence and much to the neglect to Econometer.org I am pleased to write a new post and apologise to those that subscribed to my blog, for the very long delay since my last post.   There is so much to say about the market turmoil at present, it is almost hard not to write something.

For those of you with eyes only on the continued strength in US stocks, which have hit record high after record high in recent weeks, it may be shocking news to your ears that the rest of the world, especially the emerging markets (EM) world, is in decidedly worse shape.

Compounding the impact of Federal Reserve rate hikes and strengthening US dollar, EM assets took another blow as President Trump’s long threatened tariffs on China began to be implemented.  Investors in countries with major external vulnerabilities in the form of large USD debts and current account deficits took fright and panic ensued.

Argentina and Turkey have been at the forefront of pressure due the factors above and also to policy inaction though Argentina has at least bit the bullet. Even in Asia, it is no coincidence that markets in current account deficit countries in the region, namely India, Indonesia, underperformed especially FX.  Even China’s currency, the renminbi, went through a rapid period of weakness, before showing some relative stability over recent weeks though I suspect the weakness was largely engineered.

What next? The plethora of factors impacting market sentiment will not just go away.  The Fed is set to keep on hiking, with several more rate increases likely over the next year or so.  Meanwhile the ECB is on track to ending its quantitative easing program by year end; the ECB meeting this Thursday will likely spell out more detail on its plans.  The other major central bank that has not yet revealed plans to step back from its easing policy is the Bank of Japan, but even the BoJ has been reducing its bond buying over past months.

The trade war is also set to escalate further.  Following the $50bn of tariffs already imposed on China $200 billion more could go into effect “very soon” according to Mr Trump. Worryingly he also added that tariffs on a further $267bn of Chinese goods could are “ready to go on short notice”, effectively encompassing all of China’s imports to the US.  China has so far responded in kind. Meanwhile though a deal has been agreed between the US and Mexico, a deal encompassing Canada in the form a new NAFTA remains elusive.

Idiosyncratic issues in Argentina and Turkey remain a threat to other emerging markets, not because of economic or banking sector risks, but due increased contagion as investors shaken from losses in a particular country, pull capital out of other EM assets.  The weakness in many emerging market currencies, local currency bonds and equities, has however, exposed value.  Whether investors want to catch a falling knife, only to lose their fingers is another question. which I will explore in my next post.

US dollar finding some support

Global growth concerns are contributing to undermine commodity prices, with most commodities dropping overnight. Gold was the biggest loser. Risk measures continue to creep higher as a host of worries especially the lack of traction in the Eurozone towards a Spanish agreement on a bailout and inability of Greece to agree on deficit cuts, afflicted markets.

The near term outlook is likely to remain one of caution until some progress in the Eurozone is in evidence. However, growth concerns suggest any improvement in sentiment will be tenuous at best.

On a more positive note, there at least appears to be some movement in the US towards finding a solution towards avoiding the fiscal cliff from taking effect as a bipartisan group of senators have agreed to formulate a deficit reduction plan.

The USD index has rallied over recent days despite expectations for weakness in the wake of the Fed;s announcement of QE3. It almost appears to be a case of sell on rumour, buy on fact. Admittedly the USD usually does weaken following QE with the USD index falling during the full periods of both QE1 and QE2 (-4.6% and -2.9%, respectively).

The counter argument in support of a firmer USD which we believe is supported by the massive deterioration in USD positioning over recent weeks and over 5% drop in the USD since 24 July is that the market has already priced in a lot of QE expectations into the currency.

Another factor that will likely play positive for the USD is the fact that the Fed is not alone in expanding its balance sheet. Many central banks are vying to maintain very easy monetary policy. The implication of this is that there is a battle of the balance sheets in progress that does not necessarily involve the USD being the loser.

EUR/USD has fallen well off its recent highs around 1.3173, with sentiment for the currency souring due to inaction by the authorities in Spain on requesting a bailout and disagreements over how to proceed on various issues including banking supervision. The drop in the September German IFO business climate survey, the fifth in a row, did little to help the EUR, with the survey adding to Eurozone growth worries.

Increasingly it looks as though EUR short covering is running its course and while there may yet be a further bounce in the EUR should the ECB begin its bond purchase programme, the near term outlook is more fragile. Business and consumer confidence surveys in Germany and France today will echo the weakness of the IFO in contrast to a likely firming in September US consumer confidence, contributing to a weaker EUR. A test of support around 1.2848 looms

Political pressures afflicts the euro

I’m in Dubai today presenting at a client seminar so am a little late on my blog post today. There is definitely lots going on however and all the talk is about politics. The mood is decidedly downbeat following the elections in France and Greece over the weekend. Risk assets have tanked while the USD looks firm except versus JPY. The elections over the weekend clearly dealt a blow to advocates of austerity resulting in a major increase in policy uncertainty.

Following the weaker the forecast US jobs report at the end of last week data over coming days will be less influential on the USD. In general I expect the USD to edge higher, helped by a decidedly more nervous market tone and higher risk aversion. The main interest for FX markets on the data front will be the April NFIB Small Business Optimism survey, March trade data and May Michigan confidence at the end of the week.

Although not a particular driver for the USD, the dip in the NFIB survey in March provoked concerns about the pace of US recovery and potential downturn in growth. This has been echoed in other data, which in turn has kept the door open to more Fed action restraining the USD in the meantime.

The ECB failed to rattle the EUR’s cage following its policy meeting last week although the lack of a dovish tone did help the EUR to rally briefly. We believe the market reacted prematurely and if anything the ECB may be setting the scene for a rate cut in June. Weak data has helped to undermine the EUR and I expect little or no improvement over coming days. Given that Germany has also succumbed to some weakness, the March German industrial production report will be monitored with interest on Tuesday.

The main driver for the EUR over coming days will be politics rather than the ECB or economic data however, with markets digesting the outcomes of the second round of the French Presidential election and Greek elections as well as the poor result for Chancellor Merkel in German state elections. Against this background and facing a bearish technical picture EUR/USD will struggle to recover, with 1.3060 providing a new resistance level.

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