The New Regime

Friday’s initial price action in response to the June U.S. payroll report provides a nice microcosm for investors’ mood and short-term expectations. The data themselves were so-so. The unemployment rate increased slightly, due mainly to a lower labour force participation rate, and wage growth slipped, albeit marginally. Markets, however, homed in on the above-consensus increase in headline payrolls, a 224K jump relative to expectations of a 160K gain, and immediately started selling equities and bonds. Running the risk of skipping several important steps in the argument, I reckon the story is relatively simple. Markets have been angling for a 50bp cut by the Fed in July, a position that was washed out, at least for the time being, by Friday’s above-consensus NFP print. Even if this interpretation is right—and it might not be—it doesn’t change the main thrust of the story, which I have been trying to describe on these pages in recent months. Markets have made their bet on further easing by monetary policymakers, and they’re now expecting central banks to deliver. Friday’s session suggests that the consensus is easily spooked, though as I type, Spoos are virtually flat on the day, and EDZ9 is still pricing-in two-to-three cuts between now and year-end.

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Anticipation is everything

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

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Circular Reasoning

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

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