Anticipation is everything

It’s difficult to get past the obvious at the moment. Markets have made their bet on further monetary easing, and they’re now waiting for central banks to deliver. Policymakers have been showering markets with promises to “act if needed,” and assurances from those stuck at the zero bound that the toolbox is far from empty. But they haven’t done anything yet, though this is a position that will be closely examined this week. Mr. Draghi will be at the spotlight first today when he delivers his introductory statement at the ECB forum in Sintra. The nebulous 5y/5y forward inflation gauge has crashed to new lows recently, and it seems to me that the consensus now expects a signal from Mr. Draghi that the ECB will cut its deposit rate, or re-start QE, as soon as September, which incidentally will be Mr. Draghi’s last meeting as ECB president. Meanwhile at the Fed, the only question seems to be whether The FOMC cuts by 25 or 50 basis points in the next few months, setting the stage for an interesting June meeting this week. To the extent that markets have priced-in monetary easing in response to the deteriorating trade negotiations between the U.S. and China, it would make the most sense to assume that the much anticipated Osaka sit-down between Mr. Trump and Xi—at the end of June—to be a catalyst for something in markets.

Read More
Circular Reasoning

It’s easy to trip over trying to formulate a market narrative at the moment. One interpretation of the dramatic decline in global bond yields is that the smart money is de-risking their portfolios ahead of global slowdown and a rout in equities and credit. The ramp-up in the global trade wars, and still-soggy economic data seem to confirm this version of the narrative, but it is also a somewhat naive story. The global economy is not in perfect shape, but it is hardly on the brink of a recession, especially not since it is usually coordinated tightening by central banks that push the major economies over the edge in the first place. The market is now pricing-in one-to-two rate cuts by the Fed this year, and three in 2020. The money market curve in the Eurozone is even starting to price in the idea that the ECB will further scythe its deposit rate below -0.4%. The argument in the U.S. is particularly delicious. Last year, the consensus was angling for a recession in 2020 based on the idea that the Fed was in search for a “neutral” FF rate at about 3%. Now that the Fed has thrown in the towel, the idea is that it will cut rates to prevent the recession that it itself was supposed to have sown the seeds for in the first place, by hiking interest rates.

Read More
Testing Time

The Q1 earnings numbers have kicked up a lot of dust across sectors and individual companies, which is good news for stock-pickers eager to prove their worth. For markets as a whole, though, I see little change in the underlying narrative relative to what I have been talking about recently. Equity investors remain focused on what policymakers are saying rather than what they’re doing, sticking with the idea that central banks, and perhaps even politicians at large, have their backs. Bond markets are nodding in agreement. Solid labour market data in the U.S., and a robust Q1 GDP print, have not dented market-implied expectations that the next move by the Fed will be a cut. And in the Eurozone, markets have priced out an adjustment in the deposit rate through 2021. Blackrock’s Rick Rieder summed it up neatly last week by referring to the asymmetric outlook for policy. I am paraphrasing, but the idea goes something like this: “If central banks raise rates, they will do so slowly and hesitantly. If they have to cut, due to tightening financial conditions and a slowing economy, they will do so fast and aggressively.” I would even wrap in fiscal policy here, though this admittedly tends to operate more slowly, and over a longer timeframe than monetary policy.

Read More