Two rate hikes since last year have weakened the dollar. Why is that, and what’s ahead for dollar, currencies & gold? And while we are at it, we’ll chime in on what may be in store for the stock market…
The chart above shows the S&P 500, the price of gold and the U.S. dollar index since the beginning of 2016. The year 2016 started with a rout in the equity markets which was soon forgotten, allowing the multi-year bull market to continue. After last November’s election we have had the onset of what some refer to as the Trump rally. Volatility in the stock market has come down to what may be historic lows. Of late, many trading days appear to start on a down note, although late day rallies (possibly due to retail money flowing into index funds) are quite common.
Where do stocks go from here? Of late, we have heard outspoken money manager Jeff Gundlach suggests that bear markets only happen if the economy turns down; and that his indicators suggest that there’s no recession in sight. We agree that bear markets are more commonly associated with recessions, but with due respect to Mr. Gundlach, the October 1987 crash is a notable exception. The 1987 crash was an environment that suffered mostly from valuations that had gotten too high; an environment where nothing could possibly go wrong: the concept of “portfolio insurance” was en vogue at the time. Without going into detail of how portfolio insurance worked, let it be said that it relied on market liquidity. The market took a serious nosedive when the linkage between the S&P futures markets and their underlying stocks broke down.
With a rate rise in the books investors get to hear from a handful of Federal Reserve speakers next week. On the geo-political front a hearing on Russia’s interference in the US presidential election and a meeting on combatting Isis take the spotlight.
Here’s what to watch in the coming days.
While the Federal Reserve decided to raise interest rates for the third time since the financial crisis, chair Janet Yellen reiterated that the pace of rate rises would be gradual and the so-called dot plot continued to signal just two additional rate rises this year. The move was interpreted by some as a dovish hike and Fed speakers could get the chance to refute that next week.
“Moreover, we’d also look for clarification on the addition of ‘symmetric’ in the press statement when it came to defining the inflation reaction function,” strategists at RBC Capital Markets said. “Our sense is that this was in an effort to put an end to inflation level targeting—also not a dovish development.”
Ms Yellen will deliver the opening keynote at the Federal Reserve System Community Development Research Conference in Washington on Thursday. Through the week, investors also get to hear from voting members of the monetary policy setting Federal Open Market Committee, including Chicago Fed president Charles Evans, Dallas Fed president Robert Kaplan and Minneapolis Fed president Neel Kashkari — the only voting FOMC member to dissent at the March meeting and who has explained his rationale for the move on Friday.
On the economic data front, the calendar is fairly light but investors will keep an eye on fourth quarter current account deficit figures due Tuesday and durable goods orders slated for Friday.
As we reported on Wednesday evening, something interesting took place on Thursday morning in Beijing: in a case of eerie coordination, China tightened monetary conditions across many of the PBOC’s liquidity-providing conduits just 10 hours after the Fed raised its own interest rate by 0.25% for only the third time in a decade.
The oddly matched rate hikes, prompted Bloomberg to think back to the mysterious “Shanghai Accord” of February 2016, which took place during the peak days of last year’s global capital markets crisis, and whose closed-door decisions – to this day kept away from the public – prompted the market rally that continues to this day. As Bloomberg wrote, the coordinated “response suggests that pledges by the Group of 20 economies a little over a year ago in Shanghai to “carefully calibrate and clearly communicate” policies may not have been hollow after all.”
That said, it was not the first time the People’s Bank of China has acted on the heels of a Fed move. At the peak of the financial crisis, the PBOC cut lending rates after six of its counterparts, including the Fed, had announced a simultaneous rate cut. That October 2008 move enhanced China’s emerging reputation as a global player on the international economic-policy circuit. “Growth divergence is morphing into growth synchronization,” said Chua Hak Bin, a Singapore-based senior economist with Maybank. “Policy divergence was also a narrative for those expecting a strong dollar, but that is moving now to policy synchronization.”
Coordinated or not, as of last night financial conditions in China, like in the US, have become incrementally tighter even if both the Chinese and US stock markets failed to respond accordingly.
The US dollar remained under pressure in Asia following the disappointment that the FOMC did not signal a more aggressive stance, even though its delivered the nearly universally expected 25 bp rate hike. News that the populist-nationalist Freedom Party did worse than expected in the Dutch elections also helped underpin the euro, which rose to nearly $1.0750 from a low close to $1.06 yesterday. European activity has seen the dollar recover a little, but the tone still seems fragile, even though US interest rates have stabilized and the 10-year Treasury yield is back above the 2.50% level.
The US premium over Germany on two-year money peaked a week ago near 2.23. After the US yield fell in response to the Fed’s move, the spread finished near 2.12%, from which it has not moved far. Initial euro support has been found a little above $1.07. The first retracement target of the run-up is a little below there at $1.0690. The other retracement targets are seen near $1.0675 and $1.0655.
Few expected the Wilders in the Netherlands to have a say in the next Dutch government. He drew about 13% of the vote and will hold about 20 seats, which is five more than currently. Prime Minister Rutte’s party appears to have received the most votes and 33 seats, down from 41. The other coalition partners did worse. In particular, the disastrous showing of Labor means that Dijsselbloem, the current finance minister and head of the Eurogroup of finance ministers is unlikely to hold his post. Labor may have less than 10 seats in the new parliament, down from 38. The other coalition partner, Liberals, lost eight seats.
As the vulture pundits in the mainstream media pick apart hollow political scandals, the essential bankruptcy of the federal government looms just ahead. The national debt is creeping toward 20 trillion dollars, and the United State’s largest problem is once again staring the world in the face.
Just before the government was slated to shut down in 2015 (as it did in 2013), Congress was able to pass a delay on the debt ceiling decision until March 15th of this year — Wednesday of this week. Recurring uncertainty caused by events like this has implications that extend far beyond our own borders. The amount of leverage in the current system has already forced foreign holders of U.S. debt to question the real value of America’s full faith and credit.
2016 was a record-setting year for the liquidation of foreign-held U.S. bonds, topping out at nearly $405 billion. The selling was led by China, America’s second-biggest creditor, which currently holds over $1 trillion of U.S. debt, almost 28% of the total held by foreign central banks. They weren’t alone, though, and even the U.S.’ number one lender, Japan, has rolled back their positions to protect themselves as the reality of U.S. insolvency comes into focus. A gradual change has been set in motion, and the global superpower status of the United States may be systematically eroded — not militarily, but economically.
If the government does shut down again, the Treasury Department reportedly has as little as $66 billion in reserves and just enough income from taxes to meet its essential obligations.
The fed hike case is built on a strong consumer led recovery. That’s good when people have money to spend, and when wages give them that money to spend. The wages (average hourly earnings) in the jobs reports report showed pay running at a decent 2.8% y/y. Today we get the inflation adjusted wage numbers in the CPI report and they don’t look as hot.
Last month, year on year real average weekly wages dropped for the first time since the start of 2014.
US real average weekly wages y/y
That’s not good news for the supposedly strong consumer and rate hikes won’t make the situation any better.
I’m quite surprised that the Fed will be raising so quickly after the Dec hike instead of letting that hike filter through, and monitoring the effects. To me that suggests that behind the scenes there’s something they are worried about. If they’re willing to hike in a moment when their whole basis for hikes (the consumer) might start finding things tougher, there’s something amiss.
It’s a straw clutch to try and find anything that could derail the hike tonight but there’s plenty of evidence in why they might throw in some additional caution about future hikes, and the wages numbers today may aid that sentiment.