Saturated by good news

We are currently moving into an environment where economic data is becoming less and less influential in moving markets and this could continue for some weeks.  The bottom line is that so much recovery news is in the price that the continuing run of better than forecast data are having only a limited impact.  Over recent days this run has included firmer than forecast readings on US manufacturing sentiment, consumer sentiment, housing activity and durable goods orders.  The market has become saturated with good news and is showing signs of fatigue.  

Just take a look at the reaction to the latest numbers. Equity markets barely flinched in reaction to positive data including a surge in new home sales and a jump in durable goods orders.  In Europe, the German IFO recorded its biggest increase since 1996.  Perhaps the subdued market reaction was due to the details of some of the reports which could have been considered as not as upbeat as the headlines suggested.  However, this explain is tenuous at best.  

News that China’s state council is studying restrictions on overcapacity in industries including steel and cement will not have helped market sentiment as concerns about Chinese growth are likely to resurface. Nonetheless, the most likely explanation for the lack of momentum in markets is fatigue.  There have been plenty of positive data surprises over recent weeks and markets have become increasingly desensitised to such news. 

Another explanation of the failure of positive data to boost sentiment is that risk appetite is almost back to pre-crisis levels according to many indicators I follow.  Indeed, further impetus for risk currencies will be more limited in the months ahead as the room for a further decline in risk aversion is becoming more limited.

This combined with growing fatigue will have interesting consequences. Firstly it suggests a degree of dollar and yen resilience over coming weeks and growing pressure on risk trades, especially commodity currencies which will suffer disproportionately to fears about Chinese growth and lower commodities demand. 

Nonetheless, consolidation in the weeks ahead rather than any sharp moves is the most likely path.  Although the overall trend of improving risk appetite will continue it is already becoming evident that it will take a lot more to drive risk appetite higher than a steady stream of data showing that the global economy is turning around. In any case, currencies have become less sensitive to the gyrations in risk suggesting that other influences will be sought in the months ahead.  In the meantime range trading will continue. 

The reduced swings in currencies have taken FX largely off the radar as far as policy makers are concerned and it is difficult to see the topic being a major issue at upcoming policy meetings. Lower currency volatility is clearly a boon for policy makers and reflects some “normalisaiton” in currency markets. It perhaps also reflects the fact that FX valuations are less of out synch than they were a few months back, with the USD far less overvalued against many currencies.

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Recovery hopes spoiled by the consumer

News that US Q2 GDP dropped by less than expected, with the 1% fall in GDP over the quarter far smaller than the annualised 6.4% drop in the previous quarter, adds to the plethora of evidence highlighting that the US recession is coming closer to ending.  The bad news, albeit backward looking was revealed in the downward revisions to growth in the previous quarters, which indicated that the recession has been more severe than previously thought.  

Within the Q2 GDP data the details revealed that consumer spending weakened by far more than expected. The recession is also breaking all sorts of records as the annual 3.9% decline in growth was the biggest since WWII and the fourth quarterly decline in a row was the longest on record. Nonetheless, inventories look a lot leaner following their sharp drop over the quarter and the deterioration in business investment appears to be slowing.  The data also showed that the Fed´s preferred gauge of inflation (core PCE deflator) remained relatively well behaved.

The downward revisions to past data and the fact that growth was boosted in Q2 by government spending as well as very weak consumer spending will takes some of the shine off the less than forecast drop in GDP.  Nonetheless, the data is still backward looking.  The evidence of recovery highlighted in recent housing data as well as some bottoming out in manufacturing conditions, taken together with less severe readings in jobs data  are difficult to ignore.  This was echoed in the Fed´s Beige Book which revealed that economic deterioration was becoming less marked.

The most worrying aspect of the report and something that cannot be downplayed however, is consumer spending. Massive wealth loss, rising unemployment, tight credit conditions, reduced income and consumer deleveraging all point to a very subdued outlook for the US consumer in the months ahead and only a gradual pace of economic recovery. The US savings rate is set to move higher even from its current 15 year high and spending on big ticket items will remain fragile at best.   Although the upcoming US jobs report will likely show a less severe pace of Job losses in July, the drop in payrolls will still remain significant and hardly  conducive of a turnaround in spending. 

Although some policy makers have indicated that policy should not be kept too loose for too long the weak consumer outlook suggests that inflation is likely to remain subdued for a long time to come.  So whilst it is easy to get excited about the signs of recovery increasingly being revealed in economic data this should not be taken as a cue to reverse policy. The recovery process remains a “long, hard, slog” and the massive excess capacity in the global economy, especially  in developed countries suggests that interest rates will remain at ultra low levels for many months.

Some clues to central bank thinking will be seen over coming days as interest rate decisions in Australia, UK, and Eurozone move into focus. Although none of the Banks are expected to tighten policy it will be interesting to see whether the rhetoric becomes more hawkish. The RBA in particular will likely indicate that the room for further rate cuts has diminished. In Europe, following the very soft inflation data in July the ECB will be comfortable in its current policy settings.  In the UK attention will focus on the BoE´s asset purchase programme and the possibility of increasing purchases from the current GBP 125 billion, especially after the MPC surprisingly did not increase purchases at its last meeting.

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