Looking Ahead – Wile E Coyote

Looking Ahead – Wile E. Coyote

 

We at Markets Policy Partners do not claim to be experts on cryptocurrency – if we were, we would probably be on a yacht somewhere rather than pounding out these briefings and reports. But while the crypto crowd can give you their latest prediction for the price outlook of Dogecoin or the merits of Ethereum versus XRP, they may not have as good a handle on how US policymakers are reorienting their approach to these assets under the Biden administration.

 

As we wrote this morning, Bitcoin, the flagship cryptocurrency, is trading below $50k today, which represents a 22% loss from its all-time high of nearly $64k last Thursday, with the ongoing downtrend accelerating over the past day amid news of the Biden administration’s reported proposal to hike the capital gains tax rate to 39.6% for those earning more than $1 million. These worries were compounded by rumors on Twitter yesterday that Treasury Secretary Yellen will advocate a capital gains rate of 80% on cryptocurrencies. Other popular cryptocurrencies, like XRP and Ethereum, are experiencing similar corrective episodes after their steep valuation gains year-to-date.

 

We doubt that Secretary Yellen will propose such a lofty capital gains tax rate targeting Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies – in fact, Treasury officials may well have had a chuckle over this probably unfounded report at their senior staff meeting this morning. But we cannot rule out its veracity, and neither should crypto speculators. US policymakers have all kinds of policy justifications for a more heavy-handed approach to an asset class that is associated with tax evasion, money laundering, and other illicit activities, not to mention being a vehicle for rampant speculation, securities fraud, and investor protection problems. It is certainly to the benefit of policymakers to keep the crypto crowd on notice, as rumors like this might on the margin curb some of the ongoing criminal behavior in this space and cool the speculative frenzy through the sentinel effect (i.e. Uncle Sam is watching). For US economic policymakers, a rough patch for Bitcoin also brings the benefit of suppressing the animal spirits that have been running wild in financial markets and have threatened to make the Fed’s job of maintaining appropriately easy monetary conditions harder to achieve without risking an adverse degree of asset price froth.

 

Over the past few months, we had pondered whether Bitcoin and crypto in general could buck the downtrend in other “bubble basket” assets (like Tesla and the ARK Innovation ETF) and keep diverging to the upside, but they finally appear to have had a Wile E. Coyote moment over the past week, where they stop running, look down, and drop. News that the Treasury will be more proactive in taxing cryptocurrencies should come as no surprise, but it seems to have for some – and we suspect that the process of mainstreaming Bitcoin will involve further meaningful challenges to its valuation.

Plus, investors are well aware that big, splashy IPOs/listings at market highs (like Coinbase last Wednesday) can mark an inflection point (Blackstone’s IPO in 2007 was a last hurrah for the financial sector, as was the Glencore IPO in 2011 for commodity prices). Yes, these are big cyclical industries and it is clear that cryptocurrencies play by a different set of market rules, but it would not be surprising if we look back on the past week as a turning point (at least an interim turning point) for the digital asset complex.

Looking ahead to next week, Thursday’s Federal Reserve decision is the headliner, which will be preceded by a Bank of Japan meeting overnight Monday, with both expected to retain their current dovish settings. On the data front, US personal income, spending, and prices (the Fed’s favored inflation metric) for March are due on Friday, with EU and German preliminary Q1 GDP prints earlier in the week, along with EU regional economic confidence gauges, China’s March PMI, and durable goods and jobless claims in the US. Meanwhile, corporate earnings reporting will feature the heaviest concentration of mega-tech companies, like Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Apple, Twitter, and Tesla, which bring a greater potential for these reports to drive broader market sentiment.

 

  • Federal Reserve Meeting
  • Bank of Japan Meeting
  • US Personal Income, Spending & Prices
  • EU/German Q1 GDP
  • China PMI
  • US Initial Jobless Claims
  • Corporate Earnings

 

Global Economic Calendar: Fed decision time

 

Monday

The Ifo Business Climate indicator for Germany rose to 96.6 in March, the highest level since June 2019 and comfortably above market expectations of 93.2. Companies became optimistic regarding developments over the coming months, while their assessments of the current situation were also better. Sentiment among manufacturers improved firmly as export expectations exploded due to strong demand from the US and China, while that among service providers also rose markedly. Business confidence among constructors was also back in positive territory and that among traders became less negative.

 

US Durable Goods Orders unexpectedly sank 1.1% m/m in February, compared to market forecasts of a 0.8% increase. It is the first decline in durable goods order in ten months, mainly due to a 1.6% drop in transportation, namely motor vehicles. Other declines were also seen in orders for computers and electronic products, fabricated metals, communication equipment, machinery and primary metals. Orders for non-defense capital goods excluding aircraft, a closely watched proxy for business spending plans, dropped 0.8%, reversing from a 0.6% gain in January. Excluding transportation, new orders decreased 0.9% and excluding defense, new orders fell 0.7%.

 

The day closes with a Bank of Japan Interest Rate Decision. The BoJ left its key short-term interest rate unchanged at -0.1% and maintained the target for the 10-year Japanese government bond yield at around 0% during its March meeting, as widely expected. Meantime, the central bank decided to widen the band at which it allows long-term interest rates to move around its 0% target, amid efforts to make its ultra-easy policy more sustainable on the back of the COVID-19 pandemic and a continued battle to boost inflation. Policymakers removed their explicit guidance to buy ETF at an annual pace of roughly JPY 6 trillion, saying they would buy it when necessary and maintain a JPY 12 trillion ceiling for annual purchases. The BoJ also mentioned that it would allow long-term rates to move up and down by 0.25% from its target, instead of by 0.2%.

 

Tuesday

The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller 20-city home price index in the US jumped 11.1%y/y in January, following an upwardly revised 10.2% growth in the previous month and slightly above market expectations of 11%. It is the biggest annual increase in house prices since March of 2014. Phoenix, Seattle, and San Diego continued to report the highest year-over-year gains among the 20 cities in January. Considering the whole nine US census divisions, house prices increased 11.2%, the highest price growth since February of 2006 and following a 10.4% rise in November. House prices have been rising at faster pace in the past year amid strong house demand supported by low interest rates, the need of more space and as many people moved away from the big cities due to the coronavirus pandemic.

 

Retail sales in Japan declined by 1.5% y/y in February, following a 2.4% drop a month earlier and compared with market expectations of a 2.8% fall. Sales continued to fall for: general merchandise, fabrics, apparel & accessories, food & beverages, fuel, and medicine & toiletry. On the flip side, sales grew for motor vehicles, machinery & equipment, and others. On a monthly basis, retail sales rose by 3.1% in February, the most since June 2020.

 

The annual inflation rate in Australia unexpectedly was at 0.9% in Q4 2020, compared with market consensus and the prior quarter’s figure of 0.7%. This was the highest reading in three quarters, amid a rise in tobacco excise and the introduction, continuation, and conclusion of childcare fee subsidies and home building grants. Prices increased faster for both alcohol & tobacco and education. Also, there were rises in cost of food, furnishings & household equipment, and insurance & financial services. At the same time, cost of recreation & culture was flat. In contrast, cost fell further for housing, transport, clothing & footwear, and communication. On a quarterly basis, consumer prices also went up by 0.9%, after a 1.6% gain in Q3 and above forecasts of a 0.7% gain.

 

Wednesday

The GfK Consumer Climate Indicator in Germany increased to -6.2 heading into April, the highest level for five months and well above market expectations of -11.9, due to the gradual easing of lockdown measures to contain the rapid spread of coronavirus. However, the survey took place from March 3rd to 15th, before the extension of German lockdown until April 18th and the temporary suspension of Astra Zeneca COVID-19 shots. The income expectations sub-index increased 15.8 points to 22.3, while the gauge for economic outlook rose 9.7 points to 17.7, the willingness to buy indicator increased 4.9 points to 12.3, and consumer climate rose 2.8 points to -12.7 “Another hard lockdown will seriously damage the consumer climate and the current improvement will remain a flash in the pan”, GfK consumer expert Rolf Buerkl said.

 

Retail sales in Canada dropped 1.1% m/m in January, less than market forecasts of a 3% decline. Still, it marks the second consecutive month of falls in retail sales as the resurgence of COVID-19 cases led to the reintroduction of physical distancing measures, which directly affected the retail sector. Approximately 14% of retailers were closed at some point in January for an average of three business days. Sales at motor vehicle and parts dealers contracted 1 percent. Core retail sales which exclude gasoline stations and motor-vehicle, and parts dealers also posted their second consecutive decline, falling 1.4 percent because of lower sales at clothing and clothing accessories stores, furniture and home furnishings stores, and sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores. In contrast, sales at gasoline stations rose 0.9%.

 

Wholesale inventories in the US increased 0.6% m/m in February, after a 1.4% rise in January and above a preliminary estimate of a 0.5% advance. It was the seventh consecutive month of gains in wholesale inventories. Nondurable goods stocks rose 1.1% and durable goods inventories were up 0.3%. On a yearly basis, wholesale inventories advanced 2% in February.

 

The US Goods Trade Balance showed a record deficit record of $86.7 billion in February from $84.6 billion in January. Exports of goods were $130.1 billion, $5.1 billion less than January exports. The biggest decreases were seen in sales of capital goods, autos, consumer goods and food and beverages. Imports of goods were $216.9 billion, $3.0 billion less than in the previous month, dragged down by a 10.7% slump in purchases of autos.

 

The main event of the week will be a Fed Interest Rate Decision. Minutes of the last meeting in March showed Fed officials commented on the notable rise in Treasury yields and generally viewed it as reflecting the improved economic outlook, some firming in inflation expectations, and expectations for increased Treasury debt issuance. Also, the outlook for inflation is seen broadly balanced while supply disruptions and strong demand could push it up more than anticipated. The Fed also noted that asset purchases would continue at least at the current pace until substantial further progress toward maximum-employment and price-stability goals would be realized and highlighted the importance of clearly communicating its assessment of progress toward its goals well in advance of a change in the pace of asset purchases. At the meeting, the Fed left the target range for its federal funds rate unchanged at 0-0.25% and signaled a strong likelihood that there may be no rate hikes through 2023.

 

Thursday

The unemployment rate in Germany inched down to 4.5% in February, remaining close to the previous month’s five-and-a-half-year high of 4.6%, as the number of unemployed went down 0.3% to 2.01 million while employment was little-changed at 42.16 million. Still, the number of persons in employment in February was down by 1.7%, or 765,000, February 2020, the month before restrictions were imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic in Germany. The youth unemployment rate, measuring job seekers under 25 years old, declined to 6.1% percent from 6.3%.

 

Consumer prices in Germany increased 1.7% y/y in March, in line with preliminary estimates and following a 1.3% rise in February. It is the highest inflation rate since February of 2020 as the temporary reduction of the VAT rates ended. Reduced VAT rates came into effect on July 1st 2020 for six months, as part of government measures to support the economy during the pandemic. Higher commodity prices, a CO2 charge introduced at the beginning of the year and a base effect as last year the inflation fell, also contributed to the rise in the CPI. Main increases were seen for energy, namely heating oil, motor fuels, natural gas, fruit and dairy products and tobacco. On a monthly basis, consumer prices were up 0.5%, also in line with early estimates.

 

The Advanced Estimate of First Quarter GDP is expected to be 6.3%. The US economy expanded an annualized 4.3% on quarter in Q4 2020, higher than 4.1% in the second estimate, mainly due to an upward revision to private inventory investment that was partly offset by a downward revision to nonresidential fixed investment. Still, the expansion was slower compared to a record 33.4% growth in Q3 as the continued rise in COVID-19 cases and restrictions on activity moderated consumer spending. Considering full 2020, the GDP shrank 3.5%, the most since 1946 and following a 2.2% growth in 2019. The outlook for 2021 seems brighter than a few months ago as the vaccination campaign continues, the $1.9 trillion aid bill was approved, and Americans already started receiving stimulus checks.

 

Initial and Continuing Jobless Claims. Last week the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits dropped to 547 thousand from 586 thousand and now the lowest level since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020. Claims came in well below market expectations of 617 thousand, as continued moves to reopen the economy continued to support the labor market, as now 50% of adults are vaccinated. An additional 133 thousand people filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, up from the previous week’s which saw 131 thousand. Furthermore, continuing jobless claims, which measure unemployed people who have been receiving unemployment benefits for a extended period of time, fell to 3.67 million in the week ending April 10th, from 3.71 million in the previous period and in line with market expectations. In total, 17.405 million people received some sort of Federal assistance in the week of April 3, up from 16.913 in the previous week.

 

Pending home sales in the US fell 0.5% y/y in February, following an upwardly revised 13.5% rise in January. It is the first decline since May as interest rates edged up and supply was near all-time lows. On a monthly basis, pending home sales shrank 10.6%, the second consecutive month of declines. “The demand for a home purchase is widespread, multiple offers are prevalent, and days-on-market are swift but contracts are not clicking due to record-low inventory. Only the upper-end market is experiencing more activity because of reasonable supply. Demand, interestingly, does not yet appear to be impacted by recent modest rises in mortgage rates”, said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist.

 

Japan’s unemployment rate stood at 2.9% in February, unchanged from the previous month and slightly below market consensus of 3.0%. The number of unemployed was flat at 2.03 million in February, while employment rose by 30 thousand to 66.97 million. The non-seasonally adjusted labor force participation rate edged up to 61.9%. Meantime, the jobs-to-application ratio decreased to 1.09 from 1.10. A year earlier, the unemployment rate was at 2.4%.

 

Industrial production in Japan dropped 1.3% m/m in February, compared with a preliminary estimate of 2.1% decline and following a downwardly revised 3.1% jump a month earlier. The industries that mainly contributed to the decline were motor vehicles, electrical machinery, and information and communication electronics equipment, transport equipment, petroleum and coal products and food and tobacco, pulp, paper and paper products. On a yearly basis, industrial output fell 2.0% in February, after an upwardly revised 5.3% decrease in January.

 

The official NBS Manufacturing PMI for China rose to 51.9 in March from 50.6 in February, beating market consensus of 51.0. This was the highest reading since December 2020, as factories resumed their production after being closed for the Lunar New Year holiday. Output, new orders, and buying levels all grew the most in three months, export sales returned to expansion and employment rose for the first time in eleven months. As for prices, both input costs and output charges continued to rise at a solid pace. Looking ahead, business sentiment remained upbeat.

 

Friday

The consumer confidence index in Japan increased by 2.2 points from the previous month to 36.1 in March, the highest since February last year, as all main sub-indices have improved: overall livelihood, income growth, willingness to buy durable goods, and employment perceptions.

 

Germany will release First Quarter 2021 Flash GDP Estimates. The German economy expanded 0.3% on quarter in the last three months of 2020, much better than initial estimates of a 0.1% growth, led by an 8.3% jump in gross capital formation, namely in construction and inventories. Net trade also contributed positively while consumer and government spending shrank due to the second coronavirus wave and another lockdown imposed from November. Year-on-year, the economy contracted 3.7%. Full 2020 drop was revised lower to -4.9% from a preliminary -5.3%. The German economy is seen expanding 3% in 2021, according to government estimates from late January 2021.

 

The consumer price index in the Eurozone was confirmed at 1.3% y/y in March, the highest since January 2020, driven mainly by higher cost for services and energy. On the other hand, prices rose at a softer pace for non-energy industrial goods and food, alcohol & tobacco. The ECB has said already it is expecting a spike in headline inflation on the back of base effects and temporary factors, warning that it may even exceed the central bank’s target by the end of the year. Meanwhile, the annual core inflation, which excludes volatile prices of energy, food, alcohol & tobacco eased to 0.9% from 1.1% in February. On a monthly basis, consumer prices climbed 0.9% in March.

 

The Eurozone will release the Flash Estimate for First Quarter 2021 GDP. The Eurozone economy shrank by 0.7% in the fourth quarter of 2020, following a record 12.5% expansion in the previous three-month period and an unprecedent 11.6% contraction in the second quarter due to the COVID-19 crisis. Household consumption decreased by 3.0%, and net external demand contributed negatively to the GDP as exports rose less than imports. Meanwhile, fixed investment grew by 1.6% and changes in inventories added 0.6% points to growth. Among the bloc’s largest economies, France, Italy and the Netherlands contracted in the fourth quarter, while GDP growth in Germany and Spain slowed sharply. For the year 2020 as a whole, GDP fell by 6.6%, following a 1.3% expansion in 2019.

 

US Personal income declined 7.1% m/m in February, down from an upwardly revised 10.1% jump in January and compared to market expectations of a 7.3% drop. It is the biggest fall on record reflecting a decrease in government social benefits to persons. Within government social benefits, “other” social benefits, specifically the economic impact payments to households, decreased. The CRRSA Act authorized a round of direct economic impact payments that were mostly distributed in January.

 

US Personal spending declined 1.0% m/m in February, following an upwardly revised 3.4% growth in January and compared with market consensus of a 0.7% drop. It was the largest decline in consumer spending since the April 2020 record slump as the cold weather weighed on demand and the boost from a second round of stimulus checks faded. Consumption of durable goods slumped 4.7% and that of non-durable goods dropped 2.0%. Meanwhile, spending on services was up 0.1%. Real PCE fell 1.2% in February, due to decreases in spending for both goods and services.

 

The personal consumption expenditure price index went up 0.2% m/m in February of 2021, easing from a 0.3% rise in January. Cost of goods increased 0.3%, easing from a 0.6% advance in the previous month, while services inflation was steady at 0.2%. Excluding food and energy, Core PCE edged up 0.1%, slowing from a 0.2%. Year-on-year, the PCE price index advanced 1.6%, the biggest gain in a year as energy cost increased and the core index increased 1.4%.

 

The MNI Chicago Business Barometer increased by 6.8 points to 66.3 in March, the highest level since July 2018 and above market expectations of 60.7. Among the main five indicators, production saw the largest gain, followed by new orders while order backlogs saw the biggest drop. Through the first quarter the index gained 4.4 points to 63.2, the strongest reading since Q3 2018.

Looking Ahead – Procedural Thriller

Looking Ahead – Procedural Thriller

 

Please join us today at 2:30 PM ET for a call on the Biden Administration’s American Jobs Plan spending proposals and accompanying tax increases. We will be joined by our colleagues at Hamilton Place Strategies, Meghan Pennington and Bryan DeAngelis. Both have extensive experience on Capitol Hill and will have insights on the reconciliation process, as well as perspective on what elements are likely to make their way into the final bill and what may not have the votes. We will also touch on other themes, like US corporations being embroiled in politics, whether over voting rights, pay/unions, taxes, etc.

Please reply to Jeff Easter (jeff.easter@marketspolicy.com) if you would like to join the call.

Some of the key questions we will be pondering are as follows:

The Biden administration has split this massive legislative campaign into two main fronts – physical infrastructure (the American Jobs Plan) and social programs/caring economy (the yet-to-be unveiled American Families Plan). The total price tag of the combined proposals is estimated to be around $4 trillion. What is the reason for this bifurcated approach?

Related to question 1 above, what is the importance of this week’s ruling by the Senate Parliamentarian, which indicated that Democrats could utilize budget reconciliation an additional time to bypass Republican support with a simple Senate majority. The ruling permits Democrats to revisit the fiscal 2021 budget resolution that Congress used to approve the $1.9 trillion relief bill earlier this year, in effect creating three opportunities to use reconciliation to pass a significant portion of the administration’s economic agenda before the midterm elections in 2022.

Related to question 2 above, if the Biden administration goes for an omnibus approach to this next bill, what might they use their third and final budget reconciliation procedure for later this year?

How does this physical infrastructure bill cut across party lines? Is there any hope of a bipartisan segment, such as a smaller infrastructure package free of tax hikes that would potentially draw out some GOP support? Would that be worth doing from a political and policy standpoint?

Senator Manchin has come out with some strong statements on the current American Jobs Plan draft, pushing back on the increase in corporate taxes to 28% and expressing a preference for 25%, while indicating that he is uncomfortable with the overall size of the package and favors a more bipartisan approach. He has a lot of political capital, but does he have enough to truly steer this bill in a radically different direction if in fact that is what he wants to do?  

So much of the focus is on what Senator Manchin wants, but with such a slim majority in the House, will the Blue Dog contingent have a similar power over what makes it in? 

Looking ahead to next week, the macro calendar features some consequential global economic data, with US consumer price inflation figures in sharp focus, while March retail sales and industrial production for the US and EU could highlight their diverging economic fortunes. Economic sentiment gauges for the US, Germany, and Australia are also due, alongside first quarter Chinese GDP and key growth metrics for March.  

 

  • US Consumer Price Inflation
  • US & EU Retail Sales
  • US & EU Industrial Production
  • Chinese GDP and March Data
  • US Initial Jobless Claims
  • Global Economic Sentiment Surveys

 

Global Economic Calendar: In bloom

 

Monday

Eurozone’s retail trade slumped 5.9% m/m in January, the steepest decline since last April’s record slump and compared with market expectations of a 1.1% drop, as a number of member states re-imposed or extended coronavirus lockdown measures. Non-food products sales plunged 12%, despite a 7.1% increase in on-line trade, while fuel sales were down 1.1%. Meanwhile, food, drinks and tobacco trade rose 1.1%, compared with a 2.3% growth in December. On a yearly basis, retail sales shrank 6.4% , also the largest decrease since April.

The NAB business confidence index in Australia rose 4 points from the previous month to 16 in February 2021, its highest level since early 2010, with all states and industries reporting gains, except for retail. In addition, the gauge measuring business conditions climbed 6 points to 15, matching the December reading, which was the highest level since August 2018, with all three sub-components improving: trading, profitability and employment. Meantime, capacity utilization and capex continue to rise and have now exceeded pre-virus levels and their long-run averages. Forward orders also rose and are now well above average. “Business conditions and confidence are both at multi-year highs and, importantly, we’re starting to see an uptrend in business hiring and investment activity.” said Alan Oster, NAB Group Chief Economist.

Chinese Balance of Trade showed a trade surplus of $103.25 billion in January-February 2021 combined, rebounding sharply from a $7.21 billion deficit in the same period a year earlier, and easily beating market consensus of a $60 billion surplus, as the economy recovered from the disruption caused by COVID-19, with more factories resuming their production. Exports surged 60.6% y/y, the eighth straight month of increase, while imports rose at a softer 22.2%, the fifth consecutive month of growth. China’s trade surplus with the US for the first two months of the year stood at $51.26 billion, much larger than a surplus of $25.37 billion in the corresponding period a year earlier. To smooth distortions due to the Lunar New Year festival, Chinese customs combine January and February trade data.

 

Tuesday

The UK Balance of Trade showed the trade deficit fell to £1.6 billion in January, the smallest trade shortfall in five months, as both imports and exports fell at a record pace following the end of EU exit transition period and the reintroduction of COVID-19 restrictions on activity. Imports declined 18.5% to £43.03 billion, with purchases of goods slipping 22.8% and services imports falling 2.4%. Meantime, exports fell at a record 11.2% to £41.40 billion, as goods shipments slumped 18.3% and services sales decreased 0.9%.

The ZEW Indicator of Economic Sentiment for Germany rose by 5.4 points from the previous month to 76.6 in March, not far from September’s 20-year high of 77.4 and slightly above market expectations of 74.0. Optimism surrounding the economic outlook continued to improve, with investors anticipating a broad-based recovery of the German economy and at least 70 percent of the population to be offered a COVID-19 vaccine by autumn. In addition, the survey showed inflation is seen increasing further and long-term interest rates are forecast to be higher.

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) increased 0.4% m/m in February, slightly higher than 0.3% in January but matching market forecasts. The gasoline index continued to increase, up 6.4%, accounting for over half of CPI gain. The electricity, and natural gas indexes also increased and the energy index rose 3.9%. The food index edged up 0.2%. This pushed annual CPI up to 1.7% from 1.4% in January, and in-line with market forecasts of 1.7%. Core CPI, which excludes food and energy, inched up 0.1%, less than forecast of 0.2%, with increases seen in cost of shelter, recreation, medical care, and motor vehicle insurance while falls were seen for airline fares, used cars and trucks and apparel. Annual Core CPI, rose 1.3%, the least since June 2020 and missing expectations of a 1.4% advance.

The Westpac-Melbourne Institute Index of Consumer Sentiment increased by 2.6% to 111.8 in March, just 0.2 points below the December level which was a ten-year high driven by are improving economic conditions and prospects, both domestically and abroad, particularly as they relate to our labor market. Australia’s success in containing COVID-19, the promise of vaccine rollouts bringing an end to the pandemic, and support from stimulatory government policies have all contributed to the sustained lift. All components of the index were higher in March. Confidence around the economic outlook led the gains with the ‘economy, next 12 months’ sub-index up 3.7% and the ‘economy, next 5 years’ sub-index up 2.3%.

 

Wednesday

Industrial production in the Eurozone rose 0.8% m/m in January, rebounding from a downwardly revised 0.1% fall in December and compared with market expectations of a 0.2% increase. Output of durable consumer goods, such as televisions and washing machines, rose 0.8%, after a 0.9% advance in the previous month. Production also grew for non-durable consumer goods, capital goods, energy and intermediate goods. On a yearly basis, industrial production was up 0.1% in January, ending a 26-month period of contraction and compared with forecasts of a 2.4% decline.

US Import prices increased 1.3% m/m in February, easing from an upwardly revised 1.4% rise in January, which was the largest monthly advance since March 2012. Still, the reading came in above market expectations of 1.2%. Nonfuel import prices increased 0.4%, due to higher prices for nonfuel industrial supplies and materials; foods, feeds, and beverages; capital goods; consumer goods; and automotive vehicles. Meantime, prices for import fuel advanced 11.1%, the most since July 2020, mainly due to an 11.3% rise in petroleum prices and an 11.2% advance in natural gas prices. Year-on-year, import prices jumped 3%, the most since October 2018 as petroleum cost surged.

US Export Prices rose 1.6% m/m in February, after a 2.5% advance in January which was the largest increase since records began in December 1988. It also compared with market expectations of a 0.9% gain. The price index for agricultural exports rose 2.9% and nonagricultural export prices rose 1.5%. Year-on-year, export prices jumped 5.2% in February, the largest over-the-year increase since June 2018.

The Australian Employment Report showed the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell to 5.8% in February from 6.4% a month earlier and below market consensus of 6.3%. This was the lowest jobless rate since March 2020, as the economy recovered further from the disruption caused by the COVID-19 shocks. The number of unemployed declined by 69,900 to 805,200 people, as people looking for full-time work was down by 39,800 to 576,700 and those looking for only part-time work decreased by 30,100 to 228,500. Employment grew by 88,700 to a one-year high of 13,006,900, easily beating market estimates of an increase of 30,000, as full-time employment went up by 89,100 to 8,895,000, while part-time employment dropped 500 to 4,111,900. The participation rate stayed at 66.1% and below forecasts of 66.2%. The underemployment rate rose 0.4 points to 8.5%, and the underutilization rate fell 0.1 points to 14.4%. Monthly hours worked in all jobs gained 102 million hours, or 6.1% to 1,767 million hours.

 

Thursday

US Retail sales shrank 3% m/m in February, following an upwardly revised 7.6% jump in January and much worse than market forecasts of a 0.5% fall. It is the biggest decline since a record drop in April of 2020 amid unusually cold weather and winter storms in Texas and some other parts of the South region during the month. Biggest decreases were seen in sales at department stores, sporting goods, hobby, musical instruments and book stores, non-store retailers, auto dealers, furniture, miscellaneous retailers, building material and garden equipment, clothing, food services and drinking places, electronics and appliances and health and personal care. In contrast, sales at gasoline stations jumped 3.6%. Retail Sales Excluding Autos decreased 2.7% m/m, much worse than forecasts of a 0.1% fall, amid unusually cold weather in the South.

Initial and Continuing Claims will be in focus after the latest reading featured another disappointing degree of deterioration. Last week, the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits rose for the second straight week, after a surprise drop to 658 thousand in late March, up to 744 thousand, from the previous period’s revised figure of 728 thousand, and well above market expectations of 680 thousand. The weekly report followed on the heels of news last week that that nonfarm employment rose by 916 thousand in March, the most in seven months, while the number of job openings hit their highest level in two years in February. In total, 18.164 million Americans received some sort of federal assistance, down slightly from 18.215 million.

Industrial production slumped 2.2% m/m in February, following an upwardly revised 1.1% growth in the previous month and missing market expectations of a 0.3% increase. It was the steepest contraction in industrial output since April’s record 12.7% slump, due to the severe winter weather in the south-central region of the country in mid-February. Most notably, some petroleum refineries, petrochemical facilities, and plastic resin plants suffered damage from the deep freeze and were offline for the rest of the month. Manufacturing output and mining production fell 3.1% and 5.4%, respectively, the utilities output increased 7.4%.

The NAHB housing market index fell 2 points to 82 in March compared to forecasts of 83. It is the lowest reading in 7 months amid rising interest rates and building materials costs, especially lumber. Current sales conditions for the single-family segment fell 3 points to 87 while sales expectations in the next six months increased 3 points to 83. Also, the prospective buyers’ sub-index was unchanged at 72.

Business inventories went up 0.3% m/m in January, in line with market expectations and easing from an upwardly revised 0.8% growth in December. It was the seventh consecutive month of gains in business inventories. Stocks at manufacturers edged up 0.1%, slowing from a 0.3% advance in the previous month and inventories at retailers fell 0.5%, down from a 1.7% rise. Meantime, stocks at wholesalers rose faster. Year-on-year, business inventories dropped 1.8%.

China’s fixed-asset investment (FAI) surged 35% y/y to CNY 4.52 trillion in January-February 2021, accelerating from a 2.9% advance in 2020 but below market consensus of a 40% growth, as the economy continued to recover from the pandemic crisis. Public investment jumped 32.9% and private investment soared by 36.4%. Investment in the primary industry grew 61.3%, and that in the tertiary industry expanded 34.6% boosted by transport, storage & postal industry; water conservancy, environment and public facilities management industry; education; health and social work; and culture, sports and entertainment industry. Also, investment in the secondary industry jumped 34.1%. In January-February 2020, fixed-asset investment had plunged by a record 24.5% due to the coronavirus pandemic.

China’s 1st Quarter GDP will be released. China has set its 2021 economic growth target at more than 6%, Premier Li Keqiang said in his annual work report on Friday. Chinese leaders announced that the world’s second-largest economy intends to keep consumer price inflation at around 3% and seeks a budget deficit goal of about 3.2% of GDP. The government also aims for an urban unemployment rate of approximately 5.5% and plans to create more than 11 million new urban jobs. In 2020, the country’s GDP expanded 2.3%, the slowest pace in more than four decades.

 

Friday

Eurozone’s trade surplus widened to €6.3 billion in January from €1.6 billion in the corresponding month of the previous year. Still, it was the smallest trade surplus since last April, linked to the reintroduction of coronavirus restrictions in several European countries. Imports declined 14.1% from a year earlier to a five-month low of €156.8 billion. China was the main partner for the EU due to an increase of exports while imports decreased. Trade with the US recorded a significant drop in both imports and exports.

The Eurozone consumer price index is expected to accelerate to 1.3% y/y in March, the highest level since January 2020 and in line with market expectations, a preliminary estimate showed. Energy prices should rebound 4.3%, compared with a 1.7% drop in February, and services inflation is seen picking up to 1.3% from 1.2%. Meanwhile, cost will probably rise at a slower pace for both non-energy industrial goods and food, alcohol & tobacco. The annual core inflation, which excludes volatile prices of energy, food, alcohol & tobacco and at which the ECB looks in its policy decisions, is expected to slow to 0.9% in March, below market forecasts of 1.1%.

US Housing starts sank 10.3% m/m to an annualized rate of 1.421 million in February, the lowest reading in six months and well below forecasts of 1.56 million. Housing starts reached the highest rate in 14 years in December as people moved away from the big cities due to the coronavirus pandemic. In February, single-family housing starts were at a rate of 1.040 million, 8.5% below January and the rate for units in buildings with five units or more dropped 14.5% to 372,000. Starts fell in the Northeast, the Midwest and the South but rose in the West.

Building permits tumbled 10.8% m/m to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.682 million in February, down from the previous month’s 15-year high of 1.886 million and below market expectations of 1.75 million. Single-family authorizations plunged 10.0% to a rate of 1.143 million while permits for the volatile multi-segment dropped 12.5% to a rate of 539 thousand. Across regions, permits went down in the South, the West, and the Northeast. Meanwhile, building permits in the Midwest rose 1.2% to 249 thousand.

The University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment was revised higher to a one-year high of 84.9 in March of 2021, up from a preliminary estimate of 83 and above market forecasts of 83.6. It was also the largest increase in consumer morale since May 2013, as households welcomed the third disbursement of relief checks and a better than anticipated vaccination progress. Meanwhile, expectations were revised higher to 79.7 from 77.5 and compared to February’s 70.7. The current conditions gauge rose to 93, above a preliminary of 91.5 and up from February’s 86.2. Inflation expectations for the year ahead decreased to 3.1% from 3.3% in the previous month, matching initial figures; while the 5-year outlook rose to 2.8% from 2.7%, above preliminary figures of 2.7%. “The data clearly point toward robust increases in consumer spending.”

Looking Ahead – Fresh Squeezed 2-5-2021

Looking Ahead – Fresh Squeezed

 

A week ago, when shares of GameStop and other heavily-shorted companies were still soaring and exacting a heavy toll on the hedge funds caught offside, analysts had their heads on a swivel looking around for the next target of the Reddit WallStreetBets short-squeeze mob. The crosshairs locked onto silver, spiking it nearly 15% last Friday morning but, after a half-session head fake, it settled back down, with the CME not waiting long to dial up margin requirements on transactions in the precious metal. Another reason a silver short-squeeze never caught on seemed to be that positioning was not heavily short in the first place, despite what a few posts on Reddit apparently claimed, spurring plenty of dissention in the ranks of fellow Redditors.

In scanning for other areas of heightened investor vulnerability to countertrend price action, plenty of analysts flagged another asset with heavily-concentrated downside positioning that had recently halted its precipitous slide and had been showing signs of incipient reversal. But this was no penny stock or nearly bankrupt retailer but rather an asset that would be particularly insusceptible to even the most concentrated retail speculative energies – the US dollar.

 

Currency markets are notorious for wrongfooting consensus trades and bearish positioning on the dollar has been as consensus as they come. A fiscal flood + determined Fed dovishness + risk on = dollar weakness, right?

Sentiment on the dollar was similarly dire at the beginning of 2018, but positioning was not even as extreme as it is now, and the dollar refused to break lower for a few choppy months and then surged higher, as US economic outperformance took hold. At the time, gold prices sank and oil prices climbed (a somewhat atypical divergence), while the dollar marched upward in an almost uninterrupted two-month, 7% ascent, while US equities ran higher in tandem.

 

A similarly dollar- and risk-positive scenario, with US growth diverging to the upside from the G-10, may be emerging this year to upend consensus bearishness on the greenback. After a run of dismal December data amid the seasonal and mutated Covid-19 resurgence, further backsliding in early 2021 seemed like the clear base case, particularly given that that second pandemic relief bill in 2020 was delayed until late in the year. But recent US economic figures have been surprisingly resilient, despite a slight downside miss on January jobs numbers, and even outright strong in the case of housing market metrics and survey-based gauges like purchasing managers’ indexes (PMIs). Meanwhile, the Biden administration has decided that bipartisanship plays a distant second to their intent and urgency to deploy a super-sized pandemic relief package, while vaccine distribution appears to be picking up momentum after a slow start, with 35 million doses now administered and a trend that hits 100 million by mid-April – plus, the vaccines are deemed to be effective against the current set of mutations. And with the Reddit short-squeeze army regrouping in their barracks for now, the abatement of volatility has allowed investors to refocus on the brightening growth outlook.

 

One key distinguishing factor between the current setup and early 2018 is Fed policy. In 2018, Chair Powell was guiding the policy rate steadily upward, continuing the trajectory of 2017. Now, the FOMC is nearly unanimous in trying to tamp down speculation that they will taper their asset purchase program anytime soon, while “not even thinking about thinking about raising interest rates.” But it seems that the markets are skeptical, as futures continue to reflect expectations for incrementally earlier rate hikes than the Fed is projecting. Economic and market conditions later this year certainly seem aligned to test the Fed’s commitment to their current ultra-dovish formulation in the face of higher inflation and strong growth, which may be pivotal moment for any ongoing dollar rally.

 

Looking ahead to next week, the focus will be on efforts to pass the American Rescue Act through the narrow straits of the slim Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. On the data front, US inflation figures will be in the spotlight as market-based gauges of inflation expectations advance to multi-year highs. The impeachment trial of former President Trump is also on the docket. Lastly, next week also features the last major concentration of fourth quarter earnings reports, with Twitter, GM, Coca-Cola, Disney, and Expedia among the most high-profile.

 

 

  • US Consumer Price Data
  • Global PMIs
  • Bank of England
  • Reserve Bank of Australia
  • US Initial Jobless Claims

 

 

 

Global Economic Calendar: Price check

 

Monday

The week begins with German Industrial Production. In November, IP rose 0.9% m/m, following an upwardly revised 3.4% increase in October and above market forecasts of 0.7%. Output increased for intermediate and capital goods, while production of consumer goods decreased 1.7%. It is the 7th consecutive month of rising industrial production although it still was 3.8% lower than in February, the month before the pandemic began.

 

The evening brings the National Australia Bank’s Index of Business Confidence, which dropped sharply to 4 in December from an upwardly revised 13 in November, reflecting the impact of the Sydney COVID-19 outbreak. Sentiment deteriorated in all industries, except mining, construction, and transport & utilities. Meanwhile, business conditions rose to 14, the highest since September 2018, from 7 in November, with all three sub-indices were above average for the first time since early 2019. Capacity utilization saw further gains and is now around its long-run average and pre-virus levels, while forward orders pulled back but remain in positive territory. “The rise in the employment index is very encouraging and is consistent with the big gains we’ve seen in the official jobs data,” said Alan Oster, NAB Group Chief Economist.

 

Tuesday

German Balance of Trade kicks off the day. The trade surplus narrowed slightly once again to EUR 17.2 billion in November from EUR 18.5 billion a year earlier. Exports decreased 1.3% to EUR 111.7 billion, the 9th straight annual decline and imports edged down 0.1% to EUR 94.6 billion. Sales to the EU declined 1.7% and those to the Eurozone were down 2.2%. Shipments to China increased 14.3% while those to the US fell 3.1%. Imports from the EU went up 2.6% and those from China 5.4%, while purchases from the US fell 1.5%.

 

The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index fell to 95.6 in December, the lowest since May and compared to 101.4 in November. This month’s drop is one of the largest as the outlook of sales and business conditions in 2021 deteriorated sizably. Small businesses are concerned about new economic policy in the new administration and a further spread of COVID-19 that is causing renewed government-mandated business closures across the nation.

 

The Jobs and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS), showed the number of job openings in the US declined by 105 thousand to 6.527 million in November, remaining below its pre-pandemic level of 7 million. Job openings decreased in durable goods manufacturing by 48K, information by 45K, and educational services by 21K. The number of job openings was little changed in all four regions. Meanwhile, the number of hires rose by 67K to 6.0 million, while total separations including quits, layoffs and discharges, and other separations jumped by 271K to 5.4 million.

 

The Consumer Price Index in China closes out the day. In December the CPI rose by 0.2% y/y, after a 0.5% fall a month earlier and compared with market consensus of a 0.1% gain. Food prices increased 1.2%, reversing from a 2.0% fall in November, amid adverse weather and rising demand ahead of the Lunar New Year festival. Pork prices fell less after soaring last year due to the African Swine outbreak. Also, there were rises in cost of health, education, and other goods and services. At the same time, prices of household goods and services were flat for the second straight month, while cost fell for transport, rent, fuel, and utilities, and clothing. On a monthly basis, CPI increased by 0.7%, the most since February, after a 0.6% fall in November. For full 2020, consumer prices rose 2.5%.

 

Wednesday

Continuing the inflation data this week the day begins with the German consumer price index CPI. In January, the CPI increased 1% y/y, the first rise in seven months, preliminary estimates showed. The temporary reduction in the VAT rate aimed to revive the economy during the coronavirus crisis ended on December 31st. Higher CO2 prices and an increase in minimum wages from January also accounted for the CPI rise. On a monthly basis, inflation increased to 0.8% from 0.5%. The harmonized index went up 1.6% year-on-year and 1.4% month-over-month.

 

In the US, CPI increased 0.4% m/m in December, higher than 0.2% in November and in line with expectations, mainly driven by an 8.4% increase in the gasoline index, which accounted for more than 60% of the overall increase. The other components of the energy index were mixed, resulting in an increase of 4% for the month. The food index rose 0.4% in December, as both the food at home and the food away from home indexes increased 0.4%. Other increases were also seen for shelter, apparel, and new vehicles. Furthermore, Core CPI, which excludes volatile items such as food and energy, rose 0.1% m/m, following a 0.2% increase in November and matching market expectations.

 

Wholesale Inventories increased 0.1% m/m in December, following a flat reading in November. Nondurable goods inventories rebounded while durable ones stalled, following a 0.7% rise in October.

 

The day closes with the Westpac Consumer Confidence Index. Consumer Confidence in Australia decreased to 106.99 points in January from 112 points in December.

   

Thursday

The focus on a light data day will be US Initial and Continuing Jobless Claims. In the last week of January, 779K Americans filed for unemployment benefits, a significant decrease to from the previous week’s level of 812K, and also well below market expectations of 830K. It marks the third straight week of falls in claims and the lowest amount since the last week of November, however, still far above pre-pandemic levels of around 200K.

 

Friday

The UK Trade Deficit rose to GBP 5 billion in November from an upwardly revised GBP 2.3 billion in October. It was the largest monthly trade shortfall since April of 2019. Imports surged 8.9% to GBP 55.3 billion, as an 11.9% jump in purchases of goods more than offset a 1.1% decrease in acquisitions of services. Exports rose at a slower 3.9% to GBP 50.3 billion, as goods shipments increased 7.5% while services sales were down 0.3%.

 

UK Industrial Production edged down 0.1% m/m in November, compared to market forecasts of a 0.5% gain. It is the first decline in industrial output since a record 19.6% plunge in April, as the country was under another lockdown during the month of November to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The decline was led by falls in mining and quarrying, electricity and gas and water and waste. In contrast, factory output rose 0.7%, led by transport equipment. Production output was 4.7% below February of 2020, the previous month of “normal” trading conditions, prior to the coronavirus pandemic. Year-on-year, industrial output sank 4.7%.

 

Eurozone Industrial Production rose 2.5% m/m in November 2020, a seventh consecutive month of growth and compared with market expectations of a 0.2% increase. Capital goods output jumped 7.0% and intermediate goods production advanced 1.5%. Meanwhile, output of durable consumer goods, such as televisions and washing machines, dropped 1.2%, after a 1.5% rise in the previous month. Production also fell for both energy and non-durable consumer goods.

 

The University of Michigan’s Preliminary Consumer Sentiment for February will close out the week. In January the index was revised lower to 79 from a preliminary of 79.2 and below 80.7 in December. There was a decrease in the assessment of current economic conditions, while the expectations component improved slightly. On the price front, both one-year inflation expectations and five-year were unchanged at 3% and 2.5%, respectively. “The overall level of the Sentiment Index has shown only relatively small variations since the pandemic started, averaging 81.5 in 2020, marginally above January’s 79.0. Needless to say, sentiment levels were well below the average of 97.0 from 2017 to 2019. Importantly, the level of key confidence indicators remained well above prior cyclical lows despite the sudden historic collapse in economic activity.”

Looking Ahead – The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades 12-18-2020

Looking Ahead – The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades

 

After a year that featured so many surprises, and not many pleasant ones, it is a testament to both the natural human tendency toward optimism, as well as miracles of biomedical science, that 2021 can be a repository for so many positive and tantalizing expectations. The strong prospects for a V-shaped recovery not only in the economy but for our collective well-being are underpinned by a trio (at least) of highly effective vaccines that are being distributed with tireless efficiency by our logistical networks. Anticipation of a return to relative normalcy in the not-too-distant future is not only a psychological bulwark against the stresses and troubles of the present but is also a reasonably likely base-case scenario.

 

The reality could be more nuanced, as uneven supply and tentative public uptake of the vaccine may be factors that lengthen out the timeline for defeating Covid-19. But questions of pacing aside, 2021 seems almost certain to be showing us the way to brighter days ahead, particularly after the dark months of winter finally give way to spring and then summer. Investors are, of course, already flashing-forward to this upbeat future. Market participants know that growth will rebound after tipping into what might amount to a brief double-dip recession this winter. But whether faster or slower than consensus, how can growth not improve alongside increasingly widespread vaccine distribution? Meanwhile, the Fed has promised to stay ultra-easy; more pandemic relief spending is almost certainly on the way from Capitol Hill (with a greater front-loaded magnitude than we had expected, it appears); inflation seems highly likely to remain in abeyance; the trajectory of dollar depreciation is already well established; and the Treasury yield curve steepening trend is gradual but seemingly inexorable; and last but not least, buoyant stocks appear set to either run higher or a lot higher. Through the lens of the markets, 2021 looks almost – dare we say it – predictable?

 

Amid all this apparent predictability resides one glaring unknown – the outcome of the two Senate runoffs in Georgia on January 5th, which will decide control of the chamber. A leading prediction market reflects roughly 2/3 odds that the GOP get at least a split, leaving meaningful residual odds that the Dems sweep and take back control of the Senate by the thinnest of margins. Other aspects also feed the uncertainty:

 

  • Polls are untrustworthy
  • Unprecedented resources are pouring in
  • Large absentee ballot factor again
  • Messaging issues for GOP (local authorities pushing election security, Trump and supporters saying it was rigged and blasting their handling of it)

It is worth noting that moderate Dems may not be too upset to see the GOP keep control of the Senate if that occurs, as it would absolve them of any pressure to “change the world” and they can spend two years setting their policies up, trying them out, and painting McConnell and the Senate GOP as obstructionists for not passing any of the bills they are sent – infrastructure is a good example of this. Then, for the midterm elections in 2022, the Senate electoral math is firmly in the Dems’ favor as they only have to contest 13 seats versus 20 for Republicans.

 

In short, there can only be low conviction about the high-impact outcome in Georgia. The two vastly divergent alternate policy realities of the two possible outcomes are shown below:

Looking ahead, the year-end period will feature at least a few more days of continued drama on Capitol Hill over the pandemic relief bill and government funding deadline. Meanwhile, we expect Brexit negotiations to run over the Sunday deadline, and then the year-end departure date, but be accompanied by both sides trying to play up the “amicable divorce” angle, with promises to keep negotiating, even as the economic reality of the UK’s departure from the EU looks more like a disorderly Brexit. Meanwhile, the entire US political landscape will pivot around the Georgia Senate runoffs on January 5th, with control of the chamber and the Biden administration’s policy wishlist hanging in the balance.

 

The regular macro calendar for the coming weeks until January 8th features some global PMI data and the December nonfarm payroll report on that second Friday in January, when we will publish our first Looking Ahead of 2021. Have the happiest of holidays!

 

  • Nonfarm Payrolls
  • Global PMIs
  • US Personal Income, Spending & Inflation

 

Global Economic Calendar: Auld Lang Syne

 

December 22

The day begins with the GfK Consumer Climate Indicator in Germany. Heading into December the GfK dropped to a five-month low of -6.7, from a revised -3.2 in the prior month and below market consensus of -5, as sentiment was hit by a partial lockdown to curb a second coronavirus wave. The gauge for economic outlook fell 7.3 points to -0.2, the lowest figure since May of this year when it stood at -10.4. Also, the income expectations sub-index declined 5.2 points to 4.6, and the willingness to buy indicator dropped 6.5 points to 30.5. GfK consumer expert Rolf Buerkl stated, “How the infection rate develops in the coming weeks will play a decisive role in determining whether the consumer climate will be able to stabilize again. Only a significant decrease in the number of infections and an easing of restrictions will restore a more optimistic outlook.”

 

The US brings the Final Estimate of US 3rd Quarter GDP. The second estimate showed the US economy expanded by an annualized 33.1%, in line with the advance estimate. It is the largest expansion ever, following a record 31.4% plunge in Q2, as the economy rebounds from the coronavirus pandemic. Upward revisions to business and housing investment, and exports were offset by downward revisions to personal and public consumption and private inventory investment. Still, personal spending was the main driver of growth, helped by checks and weekly unemployment benefits from the federal CARES Act. However, GDP is still 3.5% below its pre-pandemic level.

 

December 23

The focus of the day will be on the US Personal Income and Spending. In October personal income fell by 0.7% m/m, following a downwardly revised 0.7% increase in the previous month and compared with market expectations of a flat reading. The decrease in government social benefits was mostly to blame because of a drop in Lost Wages Supplemental Payments, a Federal Emergency Management Agency program that provides wage assistance to individuals impacted by the pandemic. In contrast, compensation and proprietors’ income rose. On a positive note, personal spending increased 0.5%, following a downwardly revised 1.2% growth in September and slightly beating market forecasts of 0.4%. Personal spending increased 0.5% m/m, following a downwardly revised 1.2% growth in September and slightly beating market forecasts of 0.4%. Real PCE rose 0.5%, boosted by increases in spending for both goods and services. Consumption of goods advanced 0.2%, boosted by recreational goods and vehicles. In addition, spending on services was up 0.6% due to health care spending. Additionally, The PCE price index was unchanged in October, following a 0.2% gain in September, as a 0.1% increase in services cost offset a 0.2% decline in goods prices. Within goods, prices were down for nondurable goods and durable goods. Core PCE, which excludes food and energy, were also flat in October, in line with market expectations. Year-on-year, the PCE price index advanced 1.2% and Core PCE increased 1.4%.

 

December 24

Christmas Eve brings US Durable Goods Orders. In October new orders increased 1.3% m/m, easing from an upwardly revised 2.1% rise in September and above market expectations of 0.9%. It is the sixth consecutive gain in durable goods orders. Excluding transportation, new orders rose 1.3% and excluding defense, new orders went up 0.2%. Orders slowed for transportation equipment and capital goods and computers and electronics. Orders for non-defense capital goods excluding aircraft, a closely watched proxy for business spending plans, increased 0.7%, following a 1.9% rise in September.

 

January 3

The Caixin China General Manufacturing PMI rose to 54.9 in November from 53.6 in October and beating market estimates of 53.5. This was the seventh straight month of growth in factory activity and the strongest since November 2010, as the post epidemic economic recovery continued to pick up speed. Both output and new orders rose at the fastest rate in a decade, employment grew the most since May 2011 and new orders rose further. Also, buying levels increased at the steepest pace since the start of 2011, with stocks of purchases rising the most since February 2010. At the same time, capacity pressures persisted, with the rate of backlog accumulation being the quickest since April. Meanwhile, the active market led to longer delivery times from suppliers. On the price front, the gauges for input and output prices rose further into expansionary territory. Looking ahead sentiment remained strongly positive, despite easing slightly since October.

 

January 5

The ISM Manufacturing PMI fell to 57.5 in November from a two year high of 59.3 reached in October. The PMI came slightly lower than market forecasts of 58, but still pointed to expansion in the overall economy for the seventh month in a row. A slowdown was seen in production, new orders and inventories while employment contracted. On the other hand, new export orders increased faster. Timothy R. Fiore, Chair of the ISM Manufacturing Business Survey Committee said, “The manufacturing economy continued its recovery in November. Survey Committee members reported that their companies and suppliers continue to operate in reconfigured factories, but absenteeism, short-term shutdowns to sanitize facilities and difficulties in returning and hiring workers are causing strains that will likely limit future manufacturing growth potential. Panel sentiment, however, is optimistic.”

 

January 6

The Consumer Confidence Index in Japan edged up to 33.7 in November, the highest since February but below pre-pandemic levels. Two out of the main sub-indices improved, overall livelihood and income growth. Furthermore, the sub-indice of willingness to buy durable goods was stable, while that of employment perceptions weakened.

 

The ADP Employment Report estimated that private businesses in the US hired 307K workers in November, below an upwardly 404K in October and market forecasts of 410K. It is the smallest increase in four months as a rise in COVID-19 infections and further lockdowns slowed down the hiring. The service-providing sector added 276K jobs led by leisure and hospitality with 95K, education and health with 69K, professional and business with 55K, trade, transportation & utilities with 31K, other services with 18K and financial activities with 8K, while the information sector added none. The goods-producing sector created 31K jobs, due to construction with 22K, manufacturing with 8K, and natural resources and mining with 1K. Private payrolls in midsized companies were up 139K, small firms added 110K, and large companies 58K.

 

Australia’s Balance of Trade increased to AUD 7.46 bil in October from an upwardly revised AUD 5.82 bil in September. This was the biggest trade surplus since April, amid improving global demand as more countries reopen their economies following an easing of COVID-19 lockdowns. Exports rose 5% to AUD 35.72 bil, while imports edged up 1% to AUD 28.26 bil. Considering the first ten months of the year, the trade surplus widened slightly to AUD 60.92 bil from AUD 59.24 bil in the same period of 2019.

 

January 7

Canada’s Balance of Trade narrowed slightly to CAD 3.76 billion in October from an upwardly revised CAD 3.82 bil. Exports rose 2.2% to CAD 46.5 bil, the highest since February, partially on higher exports of pharmaceutical products. Meantime, imports increased at a softer 1.9% to CAD 50.23 bil, the highest since October last year in part due to higher imports of cell phones. Canada’s trade surplus with the US widened to CAD 3 bil from CAD 1.7 bil in September, as exports went up 2.0% while imports dropped 2.3%. The trade gap with countries other than the US widened to CAD 6.8 bil from CAD 5.5 bil, with imports rising 9.1% and exports climbing 2.7%.

 

The US Trade Deficit widened to $63.1 bil in October from a revised $62.1 bil and compared to market expectations of $64.8 bil. Exports increased 2.2% to $182 bil in 2020, while imports rose 2.1% to $245.1 bil, reflection both the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the continued recovery from the sharp declines earlier this year.

 

The Ivey PMI for Canada fell to 52.7 in November from 54.5 and missing market expectations of 54.7. It was the lowest reading since May, amid the ongoing tightening of some COVID-19 restrictions to curb a second wave of infections. Employment and supplier deliveries decreased, while inventories rose and price pressures intensified.

 

The ISM Non-Manufacturing PMI fell to 55.9 in November from 56.6, in line with forecasts of 56. The reading pointed to the slowest increase in the services sector in six-months, but it remained above the long-term average of 54.6. Production and new orders slowed, inventories contracted, and price pressures eased while employment rose at a faster pace. “Respondents’ comments are mixed about business conditions and the economy. Restaurants continue to struggle with capacity constraints and logistics. Most companies are cautious as they navigate operations amid the pandemic and the aftermath of the US presidential election,” Anthony Nieves, Chair of the ISM Services Business Survey Committee said.

 

January 8

Germany’s Trade Surplus narrowed slightly to €19.4 bil in October from €21.3 bil a year earlier. Exports shrank 6.5% y/y to €112 bil, the 8th straight annual decline and imports fell 5.9% to €92.7 bil, the 10th consecutive drop. Exports to the Euro Area went down 5.1% and those to the UK sank 11.7%. Sales to the US, which have been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus pandemic, dropped 10.5% while sales to China edged up 0.3%. Imports to the Euro Area decreased 2.9% and those from the UK were down 14.7%. Purchases from China slumped 3.3%, those from the US 18.8% and from the UK 17.6%. Adjusted for calendar and seasonal effects, exports were still 6.8% and imports 5.2% lower than in February of 2020, the month before restrictions were imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

 

The Canadian Employment Report showed the economy created 62K jobs in November, well above forecasts of a 20K rise and after an 83.6K increase in October. This is the lowest number since the recovery began six months ago as full-time work went up by only 99K and 37K part-time jobs were shed. Self-employment stalled and compared to public sector and private sector employees, employment in this group remained furthest from the February pre-COVID level. Increases were seen in Ontario, British Columbia and in all four Atlantic provinces. Employment growth resumed in the goods-producing sector in November, with most of the increase in construction. At the same time, employment in the services-producing sector was little changed, for the first time since the recovery began in May. Among youth aged 15 to 24, employment rose 0.9% from October, while the youth unemployment rate fell 1.4 percentage points to 17.4%.

 

The US Nonfarm Employment Report showed that the US economy added 245K jobs in November, easing from a downwardly revised 610K, and well below market expectations of 469K. It was the smallest employment gain since the job market started to recover in May from a record 20.787 mil loss in April. In November, nonfarm employment was below its February level by 9.8 mil, or 6.5%. Employment declined in government and retail trade while gains occurred in transportation and warehousing, professional and business services, and health care. The unemployment rate edged down to 6.7% from 6.9% and compared with market expectations of 6.8%, as fewer people looked for work. The number of unemployed persons fell by 326K to 10.7 mil and the employment level declined by 74K to 149.7 mil. The labor force participation rate edged down to 61.5% in November, 1.9% points below its February level. The employment-population ratio was little-changed at 57.3%, 3.8% points lower than in February.

 

The CPI in China unexpectedly declined by 0.5% y/y in November, after a 0.5% rise a month earlier and compared with market consensus of a flat reading. This was the first deflation rate since October of 2009 as food prices dropped for the first time in nearly three years, with prices of pork tumbling after soaring last year due to the African Swine outbreak. Also, there were falls in cost of transport, rent, fuel, and utilities, and clothing. Meanwhile, prices of household goods and services were flat, while cost rose for health, education, and other goods and services. On a monthly basis, the CPI fell by 0.6%, the steepest drop since May, and following a 0.3% decline in October.

Looking Ahead – The Dragon and the Ant 11-20-2020

Looking Ahead – The Dragon and the Ant

It has been an eventful few weeks, even by the standards of 2020, which has not lacked for consequential occurrences. As the post-election legal challenges wind down, this unprecedented US political season seems to be heading toward the likely resolution of a grudging (to put it mildly) transition from the Trump administration to the Biden White House, though the actual endgame of the electoral college and physical departure of the incumbent have yet to play out, leaving residual but disquieting tail risks. Meanwhile, initial polls for the Georgia Senate runoffs show that both races are essentially tied, for what that is worth, but we expect markets to grapple with that uncertainty closer to the day of the election. Our base case remains a split decision at best for the Democrats, allowing the GOP to retain control of the Senate, though we expect that the apparent tightness of the races, skepticism in the polls, and the unprecedented political backdrop will force investors to seriously contemplate the possibility that the Dems win back the Senate by running the table on January 5th.

In the meantime, market participants have been weighing the near term Covid-19 autumn/winter nightmare against the encouraging longer-term outlook for widespread distribution of a highly effective vaccine from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, and probably AstraZeneca as well. A focus in financial markets on the heartening prospect of herd immunity being achieved at some point in 2021 predominated for much of last week but the immediacy of the unfolding public health disaster across the US and its economic consequences have dampened the investor mood for much of this week.

The rest of the world has not stood still during all of this, of course, and one of the most consequential recent developments has been the delay of the planned $34 billion Ant Financial IPO on the Shanghai and Hong Kong stock exchanges earlier this month, which was set to eclipse the $29 Saudi Aramco offering as the largest in history. Initial reports citing some regulatory shortcomings did not seem to square with a process that would have surely been so involved and thorough, and with only a matter of days before the offering date of such a high-profile and historical stock market debut. Subsequent reports indicating that President Xi himself had ordered the IPO pulled cemented suspicions that this was no mere regulatory matter and that crossing a few more t’s and dotting a few more i’s on the compliance front would not provide a solution.

What could have been the motive? Clearly Ant Financial’s role in disintermediating the Chinese state-owned banking sector, by competing for deposits and loan business, was obviously one potential consideration. China’s state banks our more than just financial institutions, they are in effect the circulatory system of the state capitalist model and a major wellspring of power for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Many of the loans they make are well understood to be on non-commercial terms in the furtherance of policy goals and propagation of often sclerotic state-owned companies and local government funding structures. The fact that Ant Financial was offloading its balance sheet risks on to these lumbering giants while eating off their plate of potential deposits and quality lending opportunities surely had the attention of Beijing. Analysts are speculating that pulling the IPO is in part designed to hamper Ant Financial’s rise while allowing some of the state banks to potentially catch up, and the tighter regulatory standards being applied suggest a meaningful dent in Ant’s profitability advantage.

Meanwhile, Ant Financial’s dominance and sheer size is surely a factor as well. The CCP has always been sensitive to the potential for competing power structures in China, and President Xi’s tenure has featured pronounced assertiveness on this front. While Jack Ma is not Bo Xilai, some major Chinese conglomerates have been taken down in recent years when they fell afoul of the Chinese leadership, with Dalian Wanda and Anbang Insurance being the most prominent examples.

Lastly there is the issue of the digital renminbi. It was always assumed that this innovation, which is putting China out in front of its sovereign competitors in digitizing its currency, would necessarily be competing with WeChat and Alipay, but analysts were unsure the degree to which Beijing was intent on vigorously competing with these popular platforms. This may be a signal that the fight for share of digital payments in China is heating up, with the state looking to capture a meaningful slice, which would not be out of character.

From the US regulatory perspective, this is marvelous news. Beijing is helping make the case that so many policymakers in Washington have pressed recently that Chinese companies are subject to state directives, or even outright agents of Beijing in some cases, routinely fall short of western accounting and disclosure practices, and often feature malign ties to espionage activities. This example will certainly be cited as the new administration carries on the job of attempting to force a higher standard of compliance with accounting rules for Chinese companies listed in the US. This seemingly capricious delay of the Ant Financial IPO is an object lesson that even China’s private sector giants enjoy no enforceable legal protections or property rights in their domestic market, except at the pleasure of President Xi.

Looking ahead, next week’s calendar in the US is dominated by the Thanksgiving holiday, which will occur against the dangerous backdrop of the virulent autumn resurgence of Covid-19, but there will still be plenty of data for analysts to chew on. The preliminary readings of November’s global purchasing managers’ indexes (PMIs) are due, along with US income, spending, and inflation for October.

 

 

  • Preliminary Global PMIs for November
  • US Income & Spending
  • US Inflation
  • US Initial Jobless Claims
  • Q3 Corporate Profits

 

Global Economic Calendar: Thanks(giving) but no thanks(giving)

 

Monday

This week brings a heavy dose of global manufacturing purchasing managers’ index (PMI) data, beginning with the IHS Markit/BME Germany Manufacturing PMI. The October PMI was revised higher to 58.2 from a preliminary of 58, pointing to the strongest expansion in factory activity since March of 2018. New orders rose at record pace amid stronger demand both domestically and abroad, with rising sales to Asia, specifically China, helping lift new export orders to the greatest extent since December of 2017. As a result, output growth was the third-fastest on record and reflected sharp increases in consumer, intermediate and investment goods. On the other hand, employment fell for the twentieth month. On the price front, average factory gate charges rose modestly and for the first time since May 2019, as stronger demand allowed some goods producers to pass on the burden of higher costs to clients. On the other hand, business confidence slowed slightly from a 32-month high in September, but companies remained positive in general.

 

Later in the morning the IHS Markit Eurozone Manufacturing PMI for November will be released. October was revised slightly higher to 54.8, from an initial estimate of 54.4 and compared with September’s final 53.7. The latest reading pointed to the steepest month of expansion in the manufacturing sector since July 2018, as output growth accelerated to an over two-and-a-half-year high and new orders rose by the most since the start of 2018.

 

Next is the IHS Markit/CIPS UK Manufacturing PMI. October was revised higher to 53.7, from a preliminary estimate of 53.3 and compared to September’s final reading of 54.1. The latest number pointed to solid expansion in the UK manufacturing sector, for five months running, with both output and new orders rising amid stronger demand from both domestic and overseas sources. Meanwhile, employment declined for the ninth successive month, and at a faster pace, due to redundancies, recruitment freezes, the non-replacement of leavers, cost reduction strategies and workforce restructuring. On the price front, input cost inflation was the highest since December 2018, while output charges also increased. Looking ahead, business optimism hit the highest level since January 2018 on hopes of economic recovery and a reduction in COVID-19 disruption.

 

Finally, the IHS Markit US Manufacturing PMI ends the PMI data dump. October was revised higher to 53.4, from a preliminary estimate of 53.3. The reading pointed to the 4th consecutive month of growth in factory activity and the strongest since January of 2019. Output growth was the sharpest since November of 2019, driven by stronger client demand and higher new order inflows. New order growth picked up due to more robust client demand, with some firms noting larger orders being placed. Although domestic demand ticked higher, new export orders fell for the first time since July due to reimposed coronavirus lockdown restrictions in Europe. Reflecting weaker pressure on capacity, firms increased their workforce numbers at a softer pace. Meanwhile, average cost burdens increased at the steepest rate since January of 2019. Business expectations remained positive, improving on September’s 4-month low, as firms foresee a rise in output over the coming year.

 

The Chicago Fed National Activity Index dropped to +0.27 in September 2020 from an upwardly revised +1.11. Three of the four broad categories of indicators used to construct the index decreased from August. Production-related indicators contributed -0.24 to the CFNAI in September, down from +0.31 in August; and the contribution of the sales, orders, and inventories category to the CFNAI edged down to +0.07 from +0.10. Also, employment-related indicators contributed +0.35 in September, down from +0.71 in August, while the contribution of the personal consumption and housing category to the CFNAI moved up to +0.09 from a neutral value in the previous month.

 

Tuesday

The day begins with the Final Estimate of German Third Quarter GDP. The previous estimate showed the German economy grew by a record 8.2% q/q, trying to recover from the historic 9.8% slump seen in the second quarter and beating market consensus of 7.3%. The expansion was supported by a rebound in household consumption, strong fixed investment in machinery and equipment and a sharp increase in exports. Year-on-year, the economy shrank by 4.3%, easing from a record contraction of 11.3% in the previous period. The economy was also 4.2% smaller when compared with Q4 2019, the quarter before the coronavirus pandemic hit. Meanwhile, Germany’s government has revised upwards its 2020 GDP forecast. It now expects the economy to shrink by 5.5%, compared to an initial estimate of 5.8% decline, before rebounding by 4.4% in 2021.

 

Also, in Germany the Ifo Business Climate indicator will be released. October Ifo dropped to 92.7, from a seven-month high of 93.2 in September. Companies were considerably more skeptical regarding developments over the coming months following the imposition of tougher restriction measures to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. In contrast, firms assessed their current situation as better than in the previous month.

 

In the US, the Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index will be the focus of the day. In October, the index declined slightly, after increasing sharply in September. The Index now stands at 100.9, down from 101.3 in September. The Present Situation Index, based on consumers’ assessment of current business and labor market conditions, increased from 98.9 to 104.6. However, the Expectations Index, based on consumers’ short-term outlook for income, business, and labor market conditions, decreased from 102.9 in September to 98.4.

 

Wednesday

The day opens with the Second Estimate of US GDP. The first estimate showed the US economy expanded by an annualized 33.1% in Q3 2020, the biggest expansion ever, following a record 31.4% plunge in Q2. Personal spending surged and was the main driver of growth, helped by checks and weekly unemployment benefits from the federal CARES Act. Growth also reflects increases in private inventory investment, exports, nonresidential fixed investment, and residential fixed investment that were partly offset by decreases in federal government spending, reflecting fewer fees paid to administer the Paycheck Protection Program loans.

 

The day also will digest US Durable Goods Orders. In September, new orders surged 1.9% m/m, well above a 0.4% rise in August. Orders rose for the 5th straight month, led by transport equipment, as the economy recovers from big plunges in March and April due to the coronavirus pandemic. Orders rebounded for transportation equipment, namely motor vehicles, and fabricated metal products, and continued to rise for capital goods, and computers and electronics. On the other hand, orders fell for machinery, and electrical equipment, appliances and components. Orders for non-defense capital goods excluding aircraft, a closely watched proxy for business spending plans, increased 1%, following an upwardly revised 2.1% rise in August.

 

Third Quarter US Corporate Profits come next. In Q2, corporate profits tumbled by 10.7% to an over four-year low of $1.59 tril. It was the sharpest decline in corporate profits since the last quarter of 2008, amid the coronavirus crisis. Undistributed profits slumped by 43.8% to $230 bil and net cash flow with inventory valuation adjustment, the internal funds available to corporations for investment, dropped by 9.5% to $2.10 tril. Also, net dividends were 1.1% lower at $1.36 tril.

 

Weekly Initial and Continuing Jobless Claims. The number of initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose by 742K in the week ending November 14th, surpassing market forecasts of 707K, and registered as the fifth consecutive week that claims remained in the 700K’s territory. The reading climbed by 31K from the prior report’s revised level of 711K and was the first rise in claims in over a month amid a resurgence in coronavirus cases and targeted lockdowns across the country. Continuing claims fell by 429K to 6.37 million in the week ending November 7th, slipping below market forecasts of 6.47 million, and marked the lowest total since the pandemic-induced turmoil in March. The increase in initial claims was most severe in Louisiana, where filings more than quadrupled to 42K. Massachusetts, Texas, and Virginia also saw notable increases, while Illinois, Florida, New Jersey, and Washington saw the greatest declines. Although total state claims have fallen, the number of Americans claiming extended non-state benefits is continuing to rise. For the week ending November 14th, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) reading rose by 320K. The Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program, which provides an additional 13 weeks of support, added 233K claims in the week ending October 31st, summing to nearly 4.4 million Americans receiving extended aid through the program. The total persons claiming unemployment benefits including non-state programs fell by 841K to 20.3 million ending the same period.

 

The Personal Income and Spending Report comes later in the morning. In September, personal income rose by 0.9% m/m, rebounding from a revised 2.5% slump in August. The monthly gain was boosted by increases in proprietors’ income, compensation of employees, and rental income of persons, which were partly offset by a decrease in government social benefits. Personal spending increased 1.4%m/m, following a 1% rise in August. Real spending went up by 1.2% or $159.2 bil, reflecting an increase of $109.9 bil in spending for goods and a $61.0 bil rise in spending for services. Within goods, clothing and footwear as well as motor vehicles and parts were the leading contributors to the gain. Within services, the largest contributors were spending for health care as well as recreation services, led by membership clubs, sports centers, parks, theaters, and museums.

 

The report also contains the Personal Consumption Expenditure (PCE) Price Index. Headline PCE rose 0.2% m/m in September, following a 0.3% gain in August, boosted by an increase in services cost, while goods prices fell 0.1%, led by a 0.3% drop in nondurable goods. Core PCE, which excludes food and energy and which the Fed has a 2% target, rose 0.2%, in line with market expectations. Year-on-year, Headline PCE advanced 1.4% and Core increased 1.5%.

 

New Home Sales follows as sales dropped 3.5% m/m to a SAAR of 959K in September, from the previous month’s 14-year high of 994K. The level of home sales remained elevated as the housing market has been supported by record low interest rates and increasing demand from people moving away from big cities due to the coronavirus crisis. In September, new home sales declined 4.7% to 563K in the South, 4.1% to 93K in the Midwest and 28.9% to 32K in the Northeast but rose 0.7% to 284K in the West.

 

The day closes with Final Estimate of the University of Michigan’s Consumer Sentiment. The preliminary estimate decreased to 77 in November from 81.8 in October and against market expectations of 82. It is the lowest reading since August as consumers judged future economic prospects less favorably, 71.3 vs 79.2 in October, while their assessments of current economic conditions remained largely unchanged. Meanwhile, inflation expectations for the year ahead increased to 2.8% from 2.6% and the 5-year outlook to 2.6% from 2.4%. The outcome of the presidential election as well as the resurgence in COVID-19 infections and deaths were responsible for the early November decline. Interviews conducted following the election recorded a substantial negative shift in Republicans’ expectations and no gain among Democrats.

 

Thursday

The focus of Thursday will be the GfK Consumer Climate Indicator in Germany. The index fell to -3.1 heading into November from a revised -1.7 in October. This was the weakest reading since July, amid fears over another lockdown following a resurgence of COVID-19 cases in the country. The gauge for economic outlook tumbled 17 points to 7.1, the income expectations sub-index fell 6.3 points to 9.8, and the willingness to buy indicator dropped 1.4 points to 37. GfK consumer expert Rolf Buerkl said, “Consumers apparently assume that the much more active infection process in Germany will slow down the previously hoped for rapid recovery of the German economy.”

 

Friday

The week closes with the Eurozone Economic Sentiment Indicator for November. In October, the indicator was unchanged at 90.9but remaining well below pre-pandemic levels, as rising COVID-19 cases across the region forced many European governments to impose fresh restrictive measures. By sector, confidence deteriorated among service providers and consumers, while morale improved among manufacturers, retailers and constructors.

Looking Ahead – Is It Over Yet? 11-6-2020

Looking Ahead – Is It Over Yet?

The concept of Election Day was already antiquated when this year’s enormous preponderance of early and mail-in voting elongated the process into an election month, while the tightness of the presidential race, as well as other key contests, has dragged the nation through an excruciating ordeal of piecemeal and halting ballot tabulation this week (though this is in no way the fault of the great people who are doing the hard work of ballot monitoring and counting). And even though a win looks highly likely for Joe Biden at this point, the Trump campaign is insisting that the race is not over, and recounts and legal challenges are sure to drag on, alongside a litany of unsubstantiated charges of fraud from the President and some of his ardent supporters.  

Our base case had long been for narrow and disputed results in the presidential race and key Senate contests, with uncertainty dragging on beyond election day. And though this is how events played out this week, it is a great relief to us, and to financial markets, that the worst case scenario of a breakdown of our obviously creaky electoral system accompanied by major civic unrest has been avoided (thus far, at least). Whether or not the final state tallies will leave any feasible room for doubt, the Trump campaign will surely continue with an array of seemingly desperate legal challenges. The next few weeks will reveal the extent to which the process will remain orderly and legitimate amid massive partisan pressures.

Even if cooler heads continue to prevail in the political arena, as we hope and expect, salient policy questions remain. Most importantly, how does this charged political environment impact the prospects for a pandemic relief bill before year-end? In this bizarre interregnum, Senate Majority Leader McConnell has indicated that passing a stimulus bill is his number one post-election priority, but he is unlikely to take a magnanimous position given the continued uncertainty over control of the Senate. Meanwhile, House Speaker Pelosi has shifting incentives as she prepares to stave off internal challenges to her leadership and eyes the possibility of a better post-transition deal. Last but not least, an obviously distracted President Trump must sign off on the agreement at a time when chief dealmaker Secretary Mnuchin is likely focused on his post-Treasury trajectory.      

The other key uncertainty involves control of the Senate. The twin Georgia runoffs in January could be the deciding factor for control of the chamber, and in that case there will obviously be a flood of money and resources into those contests. Both GOP candidates will go in as favorites but with Georgia looking like it may tip for Biden, investors should prepare for uncertainty. So while a Blue Wave certainly did not materialize, the Democrats’ tide still might go high enough to secure control of both houses of Congress and the White House.

In short, this fraught election cycle is far from over, but at least we have made it to the weekend. Cheers!

Looking ahead, next week’s calendar is mercifully light and non-market moving most likely, with third quarter earnings season pretty much a wrap. 

 

  • US Price Data, Consumer Confidence & Initial Jobless Claims
  • German and Australian Economic Sentiment Gauges      
  • UK Q3 GDP
  • EU Industrial Production

 

Global Economic Calendar: Nada Mucho

 

Monday

The week begins with German Balance of Trade for September. In August, Germany’s trade surplus declined to €12.8 bill, from €16.4 bil last year, as the coronavirus pandemic hit global demand. Exports dropped 10.2% due to lower sales to the European Union and to third countries, in particular the UK, the US and China. Imports fell at a softer 7.9%, as purchases from the EU dropped 5.4% and those from third countries tumbled 10.5%. Among these, imports fell from the UK and the US, while imports from China were unchanged. On a seasonally adjusted basis, exports rose 2.4% from a month earlier, beating expectations of 1.4%, while imports were up 5.8%, compared to forecasts of a 1.4% gain.

 

The evening brings National Australia Bank’s Index of Business Confidence. September rose to -4 from -8 in August, pointing to the highest reading since June, amid improving business activity as the economy opens up. Confidence rose in all industries except finance, business & property services which was flat. Business conditions also strengthened to levels not seen since the COVID-19 pandemic brought a nationwide lockdown. All three sub-components rose, with trading and profitability in positive territory while the employment index remaining negative as businesses were not yet ready to add new positions. Alan Oster NAB Group chief economist added, “Meanwhile, forward orders improved while capacity utilization ticked higher to 76.9%. “While the improvement in conditions and confidence in the last few months has been promising, it is important to remember that in a levels sense, things are still weak.”

 

The day closes with China’s Annual Inflation Rate. September eased to 1.7% from 2.4% in August and slightly below market expectations of 1.8%. This was the lowest reading since February 2019, amid a marked slowdown in prices of food. Furthermore, cost of non-food products was flat, after a 0.1% gain in August. There were declines in cost of transport, rent, fuel, and utilities, household goods and services, and clothing. At the same time, prices increased for health, other goods and services, and education, culture & recreation. On a monthly basis, consumer prices edged up 0.2% in September, the lowest in three months, following a 0.4% gain in August.

 

Tuesday

The day begins with UK Claimant Count Change. In August, the number of people claiming for unemployment benefits in the UK rose by 28K to 2.7 mil, following a downwardly revised 39.5K increase in July and below market expectations of a 78.8K gain. This added to a rise of 120.3% since March, or 1.5 mil, as the coronavirus pandemic hit the labor market.

 

The ZEW Indicator of Economic Sentiment for Germany for November follows. October dropped by 21.3 to 56.1, from the previous month’s 20-year high and well below market expectations of 73. Investors voiced concerns about the recent sharp rise in the number of COVID-19 cases and the prospect of the UK leaving the EU without a trade deal. The current situation in the run-up to the presidential election in the US further fuels uncertainty. By contrast, the assessment of the economic situation in Germany improved again, and currently stands at -59.5 points, 6.7 points higher than in September.

 

The day closes with the Melbourne Institute and Westpac Bank Consumer Sentiment Index for Australia. October increased 11.9% m/m to 105 points, following an 18% jump in September. This was the highest reading since July of 2018, amid the ongoing success across the nation in containing the COVID-19 outbreak and the response to the October Federal Budget. All components of the Index were higher in October, the most striking improvements were around the outlook for the economy, with the surge in the five-year outlook taken this sub-index to its highest level since August 2010. In addition, there was a stunning lift in confidence around job security, with the Index improving by 14.2% to be back around the levels of early 2019. Also, confidence in the housing market boomed, the ‘time to buy a dwelling’ index increased 10.6% to its highest level since September 2019.

 

Thursday

Thursday begins with the UK Balance of Trade for September. In August, the UK trade surplus shrank to £1.36 bil from an upwardly revised £1.69 bil in July and was the smallest monthly trade surplus in five months. Exports rose 1.5% to £51.83 bil, boosted by a 2.7% rise in services exports and a 0.4% increase in goods shipments. On the flip side, imports surged 2.2% to £50.46 bil driven by a 3.7% increase in purchases of goods, while services declined 1%.

 

At the same time, the Preliminary Third Quarter GDP Growth Rate will be released. In the second quarter the British economy shrank 19.8% q/q, slightly less than a preliminary estimate of a 20.4% drop. This remains the largest contraction ever and the second consecutive quarterly decline in GDP, officially entering a recession, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the government measures taken to reduce transmission of the virus. Gross fixed capital formation fell, while both household consumption and government spending shrunk precipitously. Private consumption accounted for more than three-quarters of the fall in GDP, reflecting the implementation of public health restrictions, the mandated closures of non-essential shops and forms of social distancing. Net external demand contributed positively as imports fell more than exports.

 

Later in the morning Eurozone Industrial Production (IP) will be released. In August, IP rose by 0.7% m/m, following an upwardly revised 5.0% growth in July. An increase in production of durable consumer goods, intermediate goods and energy was partially offset by declines in output for capital goods and non-durable consumer goods. On a yearly basis, IP shrank by 7.2%, compared to a 7.1% contraction in July.

 

In the US, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for October will be released. In September, Headline CPI increased 0.2% m/m, easing from a 0.4% advance in August and was the lowest reading in four months. Used cars and trucks cost jumped 6.7%, its largest monthly increase since February 1969, as people avoid public transportation. Energy prices went up 0.8%, boosted by a 4.2% climb in natural gas prices. At the same time, food cost was flat. Additional upward pressure came from shelter, new vehicles, and recreation, while declines were seen in prices for motor vehicle insurance, airline fares, and apparel. This put Headline CPI up 1.4% from 1.3% in August. Meanwhile, Core CPI, which excludes the more volatile items such as food and energy, rose 0.2% m/m after larger increases in July and August, pushing up the yearly rate from 1.3% to 1.4%.

 

Friday

Friday begins with the Second Estimate of Third Quarter Eurozone GDP. The preliminary estimate showed the Eurozone economy grew by 12.7% in third quarter, recovering from a record slump of 11.8% seen during the second quarter and easily beating market expectations of 9.4 percent. It was the steepest pace of expansion since comparable data started to being collected in 1995, boosted by a rebound in activity and global demand after European countries lifted lockdowns imposed to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. All major economies in the region posted record increases in GDP.

 

At the same time Eurozone Balance of Trade will be released. In August, the Eurozone’s trade surplus widened to €14.7 bil from 14.4 bil in July. Imports fell 13.5% to €141.6 bil, due to lower purchases of mineral fuels, lubricants & related materials, machinery & transport equipment, miscellaneous manufactured articles, chemicals & related products, manufactured goods classified chiefly by material, crude materials, inedible, except fuels and food, drinks and tobacco. Export fell 12.2% to €156.3 billion, as sales went down for mineral fuels, lubricants & related materials, manufactured goods classified chiefly by material, machinery & transport equipment, miscellaneous manufactured articles and crude materials, inedible, except fuels.

 

In the US we will get the Producer Prices Index (PPI) for October. In September, Headline PPI increased 0.4% m/m, following a 0.3% rise in August. Cost of goods advanced 0.4%, after increasing 0.1% in August, led by a 14.7% rise in cost for iron and steel. Prices of services went up 0.4%, lower than 0.5% in August, led by a 3.9% advance in the index for traveler accommodation services. Year-on-year, Headline PPI went up 0.4%, after falling 0.2% in the prior month. Core PPI, which excludes food and energy, went up 0.4% m/m, the same as in August, while the annual rate increased to 1.2% from 0.6%.

 

At the same time Initial and Continuing Jobless Claims will be released. Last week 751K Americans filed for unemployment benefits, above consensus expectations of 732K but down from the previous week’s revised level of 758K. Initial claims are now at their lowest level since the pandemic began but part of the decline is due to expiration of eligibility. However, those people are still able to apply for help from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance scheme, which runs out of funds in December if Congress does not pass another relief bill. Close to 363K workers applied for PUP assistance, compared with 359K in the previous period. Furthermore, the number of continuing jobless claims fell to 7.29 mil in the week ended October 24th, compared with market expectations of 7.20 mil, also the lowest level since the pandemic began but also due to the same expiration issue. In total, there are 21.508 mil Americans on some sort of Federal assistance, down from 22.661 mil in the previous week.

 

The week closes with the University of Michigan’s Consumer Sentiment for November. In October, sentiment was revised slightly higher to 81.8, reaching the highest since March. Still, the sentiment remains much below 101 reported in February. Improvements were seen in both expectations and current conditions. On the price front, one-year inflation expectations were revised lower to 2.6% from 2.7% and five-year expectations were unchanged at 2.4%. Surveys of Consumers chief economist, Richard Curtin added, “Consumer sentiment remained virtually unchanged from the first half of October (+0.6 points) and was insignificantly different from last month’s figure (+1.4 points). Fear and loathing produced this false sense of stability. Fears were generated by rising Covid infection and death rates, and loathing was generated by the hyper-partisanship that has driven the election to ideological extremes.”

Looking Ahead 7-17-2020

Looking Ahead – Do You Like Surprises?

This year has featured a jarring array of unexpected events, most of them decidedly unpleasant, and market participants are bracing for more to come. To borrow Donald Rumsfeld’s now-famous formulation, “unknown unknowns” are, by definition, impossible to predict, though nobody seems to be ruling anything out at this point given what 2020 has already thrown at us. Meanwhile, the “known unknowns” are certainly still capable of producing significant shocks.

Corporate reporting for the second quarter was almost certain to produce surprises both the upside and downside given the dearth of management guidance due to impenetrable Covid-19 uncertainties. Although earnings season is still in its early stages, surprises have indeed been the norm, as US megabanks blew estimates out of the water on the trading and investment bank side, but also exceeded the expected levels of credit provisioning, highlighting downside risks to the economic outlook. This wide dispersion around estimates is expected to continue with next week’s dense calendar of earnings announcements.

Questions still surround the two high-profile fiscal packages that are in the process of being negotiated in the US and EU, with both generally expected to be finalized by the rapidly approaching month-end. The wrangling is expected to be intense on both of these pandemic relief bills, but the expectation is for eventual compromise and agreement on a significant figure for each that is capable of providing real support to both economies. The predominant risk in the EU negotiation is for disappointment if the so-called Frugal Four countries (Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, and Austria) refuse to compromise. In the US, there is upside and downside potential for the bill given the propensity for recent budget negotiations to expand the pie rather than make tough decisions, but there is certainly a meaningful risk of disappointment as well as the House Democrats, Senate Republicans, and Trump administration are finding less common ground than in the case of the CARES Act.

The Federal Reserve is working hard not to surprise the markets, with a veritable barrage of communications on a seemingly daily basis, but investor nonetheless remain wary of anticipated details of what seems to be an impending policy pivot. The constant din of fed speakers is not entirely unanimous but appears to be pointing broadly toward a shift in favor of enhanced forward guidance, predicated upon their traditional inflation target of 2%. It does seem unlikely, particularly ahead of an election when major monetary policy making tends to be inauspicious, that the Fed would make any sudden moves to startle investors, such as unexpectedly instituting yield curve control or taking interest rates into negative territory.

Last year featured a steady diet of nasty surprises on the US-China front, but ultimately with the Phase One trade deal being signed early this year, expectations for a tense equilibrium have settled in. Recent Trump administration actions to counter China on the tech and investment fronts, as well as retaliation for Beijing’s posture toward Hong Kong and repression in western China, have increased the degree of uncertainty among market participants regarding this key relationship. Speculation over a major White House policy escalation against China tend to be linked to the belief that President Trump may have to pull a spectacular October surprise in order to close the polling gap between himself and Joe Biden.

Polling data has been likened to intellectual junk food – quick and easy to digest, sometimes quite tasty, but ultimately unsatisfying and genuinely bad for you if you consume too much. Skepticism over the validity of political polls has increases significantly due to its notoriously spotty track record in recent years, with high-profile misfires over Brexit and the US election in 2016. On its face, President Trump’s current deficit to Joe Biden looks substantial enough to subsume any statistical oddities, but market participants are well aware that polls in swing states, which will decide the outcome, look meaningfully closer. They also note that Trump voters are thought to be quite shy with pollsters about their intentions, and that races traditionally tighten into the actual election day, which is still an eternity away in from a political standpoint. In short, this race is far from over.

Still, an October surprise by President Trump is seen as highly likely and the most common areas of speculation tend to be, as mentioned above, some kind of anti-China policy barrage, with some even floating the potential for outright geostrategic confrontation. More likely, we believe, is that Trump’s major moves in the fall designed to tip the political scales will be more targeted at Joe Biden in terms of alleged dirt or announced investigations. Unlike an offensive against China, this sort of approach has less likelihood of major market blowback.

Looking ahead to next week, the economic calendar is relatively light, with global PMIs for July featuring prominently, as Q2 earnings reporting season rolls on.

 

  • Corporate Earnings Reports
  • Global Purchasing Managers’ Indexes
  • China Central Bank
  • US Initial Jobless Claims & Housing Data

 

US Second Quarter Corporate Earnings:

 

Next week is dominated by ongoing US corporate earnings reporting, with the calendar featuring results from IBM, Halliburton, Coca-Cola, Lockheed Martin, Snap, Capital One, KeyCorp, Northern Trust, CSX, Tesla, Microsoft, Southwest Airlines, AT&T, Twitter, American Airlines, Honeywell, Verizon, Schlumberger, Royal Caribbean, and Intel.

 

Global Economic Calendar: Summer lull

 

Sunday

This upcoming weekend starts the weekend with the Loan Prime Rate Decision in China. The People’s Bank of China held its benchmark interest rates steady for the second straight month at its June fixing after the central bank maintained borrowing costs on medium-term loans last week, as policymakers adopted a wait-and-see approach amid tentative signs of economic recovery. The one-year loan prime rate was left unchanged at 3.85% from the previous monthly fixing while the five-year remained at 4.65%.

Monday

The focus on Monday will be Japanese Inflation Rate for June, which comes out after markets close that day. Japan’s consumer price inflation stood at a three-year low of 0.1% year-on-year (y/y) (flat, month-on-month (m/m)) in May, in line with market estimates, as the pandemic continued to hamper consumption. Prices fell further for transport & communication (-1.7% versus -1.2% in April), amid slumping oil prices. In contrast, inflation edged up for housing (0.8% vs 0.7%) while it remained unchanged for medical care (at 0.5%); clothing & footwear (at 1.4%) and food (at 2.1%). Core consumer prices, which exclude food and energy, dropped 0.2% y/y (the same pace as in April) and compared with market consensus of a 0.1% drop.

Tuesday

Tuesday morning, the focus will be on the Chicago Fed National Activity Index for June. The index rose to a record high of 2.61 in May from a downwardly revised record low of -17.89 in April as some lockdown restrictions caused by COVID-19 epidemic were lifted. All four sub-indexes made positive contributions in May with production and employment-related indicators leading the gains.

 In the evening, Japanese manufacturing for this month will be the focus. The AU Jibun Bank Japan Manufacturing PMI was revised higher to 40.1 in June from a flash reading of 37.8, amid the prolonged impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on activity. The latest reading signaled a 14th consecutive month of contraction as new orders, output, employment and purchasing activity continued to fall at sharp rates. On the price front, selling prices dropped as businesses strived to stimulate sales, while input cost rose following a decline in May. On the other hand, sentiment jumped back into positive territory for the first time since February. Meanwhile, the Services PMI was revised higher to 45.0 compared to May’s 26.5. It was the highest reading since February as restrictions lifted.

Wednesday

The priority Wednesday will be the number of US Existing Home Sales last month. Sales of previously owned houses in the US dropped 9.7% m/m (26.6% y/y) from the previous month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 3.91 million units in May, below market expectations of 4.12 million. It is the lowest reading since 2010 and the steepest annual drop in nearly forty years. Declines were seen in all regions, although the Northeast experienced the greatest drop. The median existing-home price for all housing types in May was $284,600, up 2.3% from May 2019 ($278,200).

 Thursday

Early Thursday morning we’ll get a look at consumer confidence in Germany. The GfK Consumer Sentiment indicator for Germany rose to -9.6 heading into July from an upwardly revised -18.6 in the previous month and compared with market consensus -12.0. Both economic and income expectations improved, as well as propensity to buy, following the gradual lifting of restrictions imposed to contain the coronavirus. The gauge for business cycle expectations jumped 18.9 points to 8.5, the highest reading since January 2019 and far above its long-term average of zero.

 Just before markets open, Initial Jobless Claims will be released. The number of Americans filling for unemployment benefits stood at 1.30 million in the week ended July 11th, little-changed from a revised 1.31 million claims in the prior week and above market expectations of 1.25 million. This was the smallest week-on-week decline since claims started to fall after peaking in March. The latest number lifted the total reported since March 21st to 51.3 million.

Shortly after, we will get a look at Consumer Confidence in the Eurozone. The consumer confidence indicator in the Eurozone was confirmed at -14.7 in June, compared with May’s -18.8, on the back of households’ much improved expectations in respect of their financial situation, their intentions to make major purchases and, particularly, the general economic situation. Same as in May, households’ assessments of their past financial situation deteriorated, but on a much smaller scale.

 Friday

Friday starts with several Markit PMI datapoints, beginning with the Eurozone. The IHS Markit Eurozone Composite PMI was revised higher to 48.5 in June from a preliminary estimate of 47.5 and compared to 31.9 in May. The reading pointed to the softer contraction in private sector activity in four months, as restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic eased. Both manufacturing output (PMI at 47.4 vs 39.4 in May) and services activities (48.3 vs 30.5 in May) shrank at the weakest pace in four months. Though the Manufacturing PMI was revised higher to a four-month high, the latest survey suggested the Eurozone manufacturing sector remained in contraction territory for the past 17 months. Output and new orders declined at a softer pace as more businesses restarted operations following weeks of closure due to the coronavirus pandemic. Backlogs of work outstanding fell for a twenty-second successive month and employment dropped for a fourteenth month in a row. Purchasing activity also remained depressed. On the price front, both input costs and output charges continued to decline. Finally, confidence about production in the year ahead returned to positive territory and services optimism hit a four-month high during June.

Not long after the Eurozone, we will get Markit PMI for the United Kingdom. The IHS Markit/CIPS UK Composite PMI came in at 47.7 in June, little-changed from a preliminary estimate of 47.6 and compared to the previous month’s 30.0. Manufacturing production rebounded 9.4 points to 50.1 and service activity contracted at a softer pace, 47.1 compared to the previous month’s 29.0, in June as the economy reopened following months of disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Manufacturing production rose slightly for the first time in four months, while new order intakes and employment fell at softer rates. On the price front, input costs rose the most in a year, although at mild pace, while output charges also increased. Looking ahead, business sentiment rose to a 21-month high in June due to clients reopening, an expected further loosening of COVID-19 restrictions and hopes that markets would revive at home and overseas to help recover growth lost during the pandemic.

Coming back to an American focus, lastly, we’ll get US Markit PMI. The IHS Markit US Composite PMI was revised higher to 47.9 in June from a preliminary estimate of 46.8 and compared to the previous month’s 37.0. Much softer rates of contraction were reported across the manufacturing and service sectors as the economy began to reopen following the coronavirus-related restrictions. New order inflows stabilized, and employment fell at softer pace, while excess capacity remained as backlogs of work continued to decline. On the price front, cost burdens were up for the first time since February, with private sector firms partly passing on higher costs to clients. Finally, companies expressed optimism towards the outlook for output over the coming year for the first time since March.

Next week, our interest concludes with New Home Sales in the United States. Sales of new single-family homes in the United States jumped 16.6% m/m (12.7% y/y) to an annualized rate of 676 thousand in May, beating forecasts of a 2.9% rise. However, data for April was revised sharply lower to 580 thousand from 623 thousand. Still, May’s figure is the highest in three months. There were 318,000 new homes on the market, down 2.2% from April. At May’s sales pace it would take 5.6 months to clear the supply of houses on the market. The median new house price rose $5,200 from a year ago to $317,900.

Looking Ahead – A Lack of Discipline 5-8-2020

Looking Ahead – A Lack of Discipline

Take it from us, Wall Street is not the only place where complacency can set in during a big rally in the S&P 500. US equities can seem to policymakers like a tick-by-tick opinion poll, particularly at a time like this when the fiscal and monetary might of the government is playing such a central role in driving risk asset prices. Plus, the Trump administration has more expressly tethered their fortunes to the stock market than any other in recent memory and under that formulation, buoyant equity prices can easily be taken as a validation of whatever policy prescriptions are currently being administered.

In short, policymakers can easily read too much into a stock market rally, as equities are a fickle friend. Though the S&P 500 might appear to “like” accelerated efforts to reopen segments of the US economy, that does not mean that it would not turn on a dime and head southward again if infection rates shoot up, threatening a re-imposition of lockdowns. The staunchest defender of the efficient market hypothesis still cannot claim that stocks are a crystal ball.

Even if policymakers take price action with the appropriate grain of salt, it remains the case that rising US stocks inevitably drain some of the urgency out of the proceedings in Washington DC. Market price action, particularly high profile, headline grabbing, 401K bashing stock market declines, can be very effective at focusing the minds of Congress, the Federal Reserve, and the administration on attempting to address the problems at hand. When a warning siren is blaring on Wall Street with equities in freefall, officials scurry around trying to figure how to silence it. Now, the S&P 500 is not even down 10% year-to-date and the Nasdaq is already back in positive territory for the year, so if stocks are telling everyone the coast is clear, why do we need another $1 trillion plus stimulus package?

A former Treasury official once recounted a story – during one of the later repetitions of the tedious debt ceiling showdowns, Wall Street had completely tuned out and stocks were rallying steadily even as Tea Party rabble rousers threatened a sovereign US default. A concerned member of Congress asked why stocks were so upbeat in the face of this significant threat, and the Treasury official explained that investors had seen this movie before a few times and figured they knew how it would end. The response was “don’t investors know that the less they worry about a debt ceiling accident, the more likely it becomes?” In other words, without the market performing a disciplinary function, policymakers are more apt to misbehave.

There seems to be a similar dynamic developing with regard to the next version of a pandemic relief bill (the latest CARES Act sequel). One of the key pillars of the turnaround in market sentiment is the massive fiscal response from Congress, but the very existence of the rally makes additional follow-through on the fiscal response less likely. Without conspicuous stock market losses to hold Congress’ collective feet to the fire, the less likely anything further gets done. The partisan armistice that was achieved during the torrid weeks of March and April looks like it may not hold as the House Democrats, Senate Republicans, and Trump administration officials head back to their entrenched positions and prepare for battle over policy turf while unemployment is at Depression levels. Earlier today, National Economic Council Director Kudlow said that negotiations are officially on pause for this month.

For policymakers looking for a more accurate market-based gauge of economic expectations, we would suggest focusing on the prescient Treasury market, which is signaling deep and persistent US economic doldrums, rather than on flighty and emotional equities, which are notorious for overshooting at inopportune times.

Looking ahead to next week, market participants will attempt to look past more horrendous economic data amid an overriding focus on the prospects for recovery.

 

  • US Retail Sales, Industrial Production & Consumer Confidence
  • US Initial Jobless Claims
  • China’s April Economic Readings
  • UK Q1 GDP

 

 

Global Economic Calendar

 

Monday

The week begins in Australia with the National Australia Bank’s Business Confidence Index. In March the index crashed to a record low of -66 from -4 in February. The index of business conditions plummeted to -21 from 0 the prior month, dragged down by sharp declines in sales, profits and employment. April is expected to be -70.

 

Tuesday

Tuesday’s focus will be on the Consumer Price Index for April. In March Headline CPI fell 0.4% m/m to 1.5% y/y. This is the lowest level since February 2019 and the largest monthly drop since January 2015, driven by a 10.2% slump in gasoline and a 1.6% drop in apparel prices. Core CPI, which excludes the more volatile food and energy components, fell 0,1% m/m putting it up 2.1% y/y but below market consensus of a 2.3% advance. March marked the first monthly drop in Core CPI’s since January 2010.

In Australia on Tuesday the focus will be on the Melbourne Institute and Westpac Bank Consumer Sentiment Index. In April the index fell 17.7% to 75.6, the biggest monthly fall in survey history, taking the index to its lowest level since February 1991. Outlook on Economic conditions for the next 12 months dropped 31% to 53.7 points, the lowest since the Financial Crisis, and conditions for the next 5 years fell 3.8% to 87. In addition, time to buy a major household item tumbled 31.6 % to the lowest on record of 76.2.

 

Wednesday

Wednesday brings the first estimate of First Quarter GDP in Great Britain. 4Q19 GDP was flat as household consumption was unchanged, marking the first period that it has not increased since the 4Q15, while gross fixed capital formation dropped the most in nearly two years, led by a contraction in business investment. Meanwhile, government consumption rebounded firmly, driven by education and health, and net trade contributed positively to the GDP as exports rose more than imports. On the production side, services activity grew at a softer pace, while production output fell due to declines in manufacturing, and mining and quarrying. In addition, construction output dropped into contraction territory. Expectations are for a 2% contraction in the first quarter as the UK implemented a lockdown to battle the virus.

In the US we will see Producer Price Index (PPI) for April. In March PPI fell 0.2% m/m but increased 0.7% y/y, after declining 0.6% m/m but increasing 1.3% y/y in February. March PPI was the lowest level since September 2016. Cost of goods fell 1%, mainly due to a 6.7% drop in energy costs. In contrast, prices of services increased 0.2%, mainly due to an 8.1% rise in margins for apparel, jewelry, footwear, and accessories retailing. Core PPI came in 0.2% m/m higher, after falling 0.3% in February, and above forecasts of a flat reading.

Wednesday also features the Australian Employment Report for April. In March the Australian economy added 5,900 jobs to 13,017,600, following a 25,600 gain in the previous month and easily beating market forecasts of a 40,000 fall. Australia’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate edged up to 5.2% in March from 5.1% in February but less than market expectations of 5.5%. The number of unemployed people rose by 20,300 to 718,600. By the end of this quarter, the Employment Change in Australia is expected to be a loss of 65,000 persons and the Unemployment Rate in Australia is expected to be 9.00%.

 

Thursday

Thursday brings a host of data on the Chinese economy starting with Industrial Production for April. March production dropped by 1.1% y/y, after a 13.5% plunge in January-February, but far less dire than market expectations of a 7.3% fall. Output fell at a softer pace for both manufacturing and utilities, while a rebound was seen in mining.

We also will see Retail Sales for April. March sales declined 15.8% y/y in March, following a 20.5% slump in January-February, worse than market expectations of a 10% fall. Sales continued to decline for most categories, while sales rebounded for personal care, office supplies, and telecoms.

On Thursday in the US the focus will be on Initial Jobless Claims. Last week 3.169 mil Americans filled for initial unemployment benefits, compared to 3.846 mil in the prior week and above market expectations of 3.0 mil. Last week’s filings lifted the total reported since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis to 33.5 mil, equivalent to a 22% unemployment rate. The largest increases were seen in California, Texas, Georgia, and New York, while continuing jobless claims hit a new record of 22.647 mil. Tomorrow the BLS will release the April Employment Report where consensus expectations are for a loss of 22 mil jobs and a 20% unemployment rate.

 

Friday

Friday’s focus will be on US Retail Sales for April. March sales plunged 8.4% m/m and 5.8% y/y and was the largest monthly decline on record and the largest decline in trade since 2009. Excluding autos, retail sales fell 4.2% m/m. The biggest decreases were seen in clothing, furniture, restaurants & bars, motor vehicles & parts, sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument & books, and electronics & appliances. Receipts at gasoline stations also fell sharply as consumers cut back spending on fuel and as oil prices plunged. On the other hand, sales of food & beverages and health & personal care products rose.

We will also see Industrial Production for April. March production slumped 5.4% m/m and 5.5% y/y, the largest monthly drop since January 1946, and worse than market expectations of a 4% dive. Manufacturing output fell 6.3%, the most since February 1946. The declines were led by a 28.0% tumble in motor vehicles and parts output.

Finally, the week ends with the Michigan Consumer Expectations Index for May. In April the index fell to 71.8, the lowest reading since 2011. Surveys of Consumers chief economist, Richard Curtin stated that “In the weeks ahead, as several states reopen their economies, more information will reach consumers about how reopening could cause a resurgence in coronavirus infections. The necessity to reimpose restrictions could cause a deeper and more lasting pessimism across all consumers, even those in states that did not relax their restrictions.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking Ahead – Political Economics of a Pandemic 3-6-2020

The coronavirus outbreak may not yet fit the scientific definition of a pandemic but it is clearly heading in that direction, according to some leading public health officials. Global financial markets are certainly not waiting for the official notification. Price action this week in Treasury markets is consistent with an exceedingly grim economic outlook and acute risk aversion, while the previously resilient S&P 500 is under increasing pressure.

Policymakers are not standing idly by. This week has seen a raft of rate cuts from global central banks, including an emergency 50 basis point reduction from the Fed on Tuesday. Meanwhile, the Trump administration is deploying an $8 billion spending package, which the President signed this morning after its swift trip to approval in Congress, and National Economic Council Director Kudlow is indicating that more fiscal measures are in the pipeline.

Meanwhile, US politics played out as a side-plot to the main narrative of the unfolding outbreak and the official responses being marshaled against it. There was plenty of debate among market participants over the extent to which US politics played a role in last week’s selloff, as Senator Sanders gained momentum in the Democratic field, and this week’s twin rallies on Monday and Wednesday, of 4.6% and 4.2%, respectively, which bookended a storming Super Tuesday comeback for Joe Biden, who is back as the presumptive frontrunner.

Many market contacts opined that Wednesday’s surge in the S&P 500 was specifically driven by Biden’s big win, and we certainly agree that healthcare stocks in particular received a boost given Biden’s opposition to Medicare-for-all. Shares of UnitedHealth and Anthem, two managed care giants, are up 9.2% and 6.8% this week despite all the chop in broader indexes. The degree of Joe-mentum in broader indexes and financial markets, however, is debatable.

Whether Medicare-for-all and other more radical healthcare reform proposals really are going to disappear with the Sanders campaign is also not so clear. Analysts are noting that a true pandemic has the power to shape societal norms and ideas, supporting (as one put it) “collectivist notions.” Calls from even Republican quarters that coronavirus patients should receive free treatment even if not insured may be just politicking, or it may represent a real shift. Bailouts for the service sector are unworkable, so perhaps direct payments to service sector workers (aka “helicopter money”) might be considered. It is certainly the time for policymakers to try to think creatively about responses to the epidemic, some of which might be difficult to entirely reverse when the coronavirus mercifully abates.

Looking ahead to next week, the European Central Bank is set to ease and global economic data will be scrutinized for any impact from the coronavirus epidemic.

  • US Economic Data
  • European Central Bank
  • EU Economic Data
  • China Economic Data

US Economic Data: Focus on consumer sentiment for virus impact  

Wednesday’s focus will be on the US Consumer Price Index (CPI) for February. January Headline CPI rose 0.1% m/m, coming in below forecasts of 0.2%. Shelter accounted for the largest increase, with cost of food and medical care services also rising. These increases offset a 1.6% decrease in the gasoline index. On a year-over-year basis CPI climbed to 2.5% from 2.3% in December and is the highest rate since October of 2018, mainly boosted by a 12.8% jump in gasoline cost. Core CPI, which excludes volatile items such as food and energy, increased 0.2% m/m, following a 0.1% gain in December and matching market expectations. Core CPI has risen 2.3% y/y, the same as in December.

The Producer Prices Index (PPI) for February will be released on Thursday. In January the PPI jumped 0.5% m/m, coming is well above market expectations of 0.1% rise. This was the largest monthly gain since October 2018, as services prices rose 0.7% and boosted by apparel, jewelry, footwear, and accessories retailing. On the other side, goods cost only advanced 0.1%. Year-on-year, the PPI rose 2.1%, the largest advance since May 2019. Core PPI also rose 0.5%, also well above the 0.1% forecasted.

On Friday the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index for March will be released and will provide one of the first readings on how the coronavirus is affecting the consumer. February was revised slightly higher to 101 from a preliminary 100.9 and is the highest reading since March of 2018. The gauge for current conditions was higher than expected, while expectations rose less. One-year inflation expectations were 2.4%, while the five-year outlook was 2.3%. The coronavirus was mentioned by 8% of all consumers in February although on the last days of the February survey, 20% mentioned the coronavirus due to the steep drop in equity prices, as well as the CDC warnings about the potential domestic threat of the virus. While too few cases were conducted to attach any statistical significance to the findings, it is nonetheless true that the domestic spread of the virus could have a significant impact on consumer spending.

European Central Bank: No time to waste 

On Thursday the ECB will hold their Interest Rate Decision. At its January meeting the ECB left the key interest rate on the main refinancing operations steady at 0%, which was widely expected. The marginal lending facility was also kept at 0.25% and the deposit facility at -0.50%. During the press conference, ECB President Lagarde failed to provide any new information on the monetary policy, economic outlook and strategic review. Lagarde added that incoming data is in line with the ECB baseline scenario and there are some signs of moderate increase in underlying inflation. She added that the governing council stands ready to adjust the instruments if needed. At a subsequent speech in February, Lagarde called for fiscal stimulus measures in the Eurozone, warning that monetary policy isn’t “the only game in town” and the longer the accommodative measures remain in place, the greater the risk that side effects will become more pronounced.

EU Economic Data: Feeling contractions 

Thursday begins with Eurozone Industrial Production (IP) for January. December IP plunged 4.1% y/y, following a 1.7% contraction and compared to market forecasts of a 2.3% decline. The latest figure matched the December 2018 drop, which was the biggest since November 2009. Capital goods output led the fall, followed by intermediate goods, energy and durable consumer goods. Among the bloc’s largest economies, there was a contraction in Germany, Italy and France, while Spain’s output was little changed. For full year 2019, IP shrank 1.7%, the steepest contraction since 2012.

Chinese Economic Data: Price check  

The week begins with China’s Consumer Price Index (CPI) for February. January CPI jumped to 5.4% y/y from 4.5% in December and above market consensus of 4.9%. This is the highest inflation rate since October 2011 due to rising pork prices, stronger demand during the Lunar New Year holiday and the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. Food prices went up 20.6% y/y, the most since April 2008, with pork prices rising for the 11th month in a row and at a steeper rate. Pork prices have been rising during the last year amid a prolonged African swine fever epidemic and in January 2020, several lockdowns and transport restrictions due to the coronavirus outbreak weighed on the pork cost even more.

Friday begins with Chinese Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) for February. In January FDI into China rose 4% y/y to CNY 87.57 bil, or 2.2% to $12.68 bil. In yuan terms, foreign investment in high-tech industries went up 27.9 percent and accounted for 35.8 percent of the total FDI, with investment in high-tech service increasing 45.5 percent. Among the main sources of investment, FDI into China rose mainly from Singapore (40.6 percent), South Korea (157.1 percent), and Japan (50.2 percent); while FDI from the countries along the “Belt and Road” and ASEAN advanced by 31.3 percent and 44.8 percent, respectively.

Morning Markets Brief 3-13-2020

Summary and Price Action Rundown

Global financial markets are attempting to stabilize this morning after historic levels of volatility this week began to translate into more disorderly trading conditions and rapidly rising systemic risks, prompting an increasingly proactive response from central banks, though fiscal measures, particularly in the US and Germany, remain lacking. S&P 500 futures point to a 4.4% jump at the open, though this is dwarfed by yesterday’s plunge of 9.5%, which was the heaviest percentage point decline for the index since “Black Monday” in 1987. The index’s year-to-date losses stand at 23.2% while the downside from the mid-February record high is 26.7%. For context, investor optimism over prospects for synchronized stimulus from global central banks and governments to counteract the economic costs of the coronavirus epidemic evaporated yesterday as wrangling continued over US fiscal support and central bank action failed to support broad investor confidence. But nerves are steadying a bit this morning as headlines suggest that Congress and the administration may be closing in on an emergency spending deal today, while investors are focused on potentially dramatic stimulus from the Fed at their meeting next week, if not before. Equities in Asia posted steep losses overnight but today’s equity rebound began this morning in the EU. After the Fed stepped in yesterday to address some trading dislocations in Treasuries, the 10-year yield is up to 0.86%, and the dollar is hovering near top of its recent trading range. Brent crude is bouncing to $35 per barrel.

Hope Reemerges for a More Concerted US Government Response to the Pandemic  

After market confidence was progressively undermined by this week’s lagging US efforts to marshal a significant fiscal response to counter the economic fallout from the pandemic, investors will be intently focused on the US spending bill expected to be finalized today. With fiscal support widely deemed to be the most effective means for governments to diminish the human and economic toll of the outbreak, a sizeable and strategic US emergency budget that is emblematic of bipartisan unity would be a key step toward stabilizing market sentiment. Lack of apparent progress and partisan bickering over government budgetary support to help address the growing economic impact of the pandemic has been a significant downside catalyst this week, alongside President Trump’s Wednesday address to the nation, which focused on travel restrictions from the EU rather than domestic economic support or progress on virus testing capabilities. Meanwhile, fiscal stimulus measures have been ramping up overseas this week. The UK unveiled a $39 billion spending package, Australia announced a $10-13 billion plan, and Italy upped its program to $28 billion, which includes tax credits to hard-hit companies as the EU provides fiscal leeway to the indebted country. Also, Japan is marshalling a $15.6 billion anti-virus budget and Germany’s central bank president Weidmann advocated deficit spending. Meanwhile, the governments of Spain, Italy, and South Korea took a step reminiscent of the global financial crisis and banned short-selling of certain equities.    

 

Focus on the Fed as Extraordinary Easing by the European Central Bank Rings Hollow 

Monetary accommodation is being deployed in an attempt to blunt the deepening economic impact of the coronavirus and address liquidity issues, but the European Central Bank (ECB) underwhelmed yesterday, putting additional pressure on the Fed to step up its stimulus. The adverse market reaction to central bank easing yesterday highlights the difficult situation for monetary policymakers who lack cover due to stalled fiscal efforts. The ECB did not cut rates as expected but augmented its extraordinary monetary support by creating a new concessionary loan facility for small businesses and upping the asset purchase program, though some analysts were unimpressed with the temporary nature of the increase as well as well as ECB President Lagarde’s remarks that suggested a less permissive stance toward stabilizing the sovereign market pressures in the EU. Italian bonds sold off sharply following the ECB decision but have stabilized this morning. Later in the day, the Fed announced that $1.5 trillion would be on offer to address liquidity strains in short-term funding markets, as well as indicating that its balance sheet expansion program would now include purchases beyond three months, although this was not explicitly labeled quantitative easing. While short-term funding markets were soothed, broader markets received only a temporary lift from the targeted action. Futures markets project at least 75 basis points (bps) of Fed rate cuts by next week’s meeting and market participants are broadly expecting the official restart of quantitative easing.

 

Additional Themes

Overseas Monetary Easing – Overnight, central banks in Australia, China and Sweden released further liquidity into their banking systems, while Norway enacted an emergency 50bps rate cut. The Bank of Japan is reportedly mulling buying commercial paper and corporate bonds.

US Consumer Confidence in Focus – This morning, the March U. Michigan Consumer Sentiment index will be one of the earliest indicators of how the US economy is weathering the epidemic.