G4+CHF can fight the currency wars longer and more aggressively than small G10 and EM countries can. However, as Citi's Steven Englander notes, it also takes a lot of depreciation to crowd in a meaningful amount of net exports. His bottom line, GBP, CHF and JPY have a lot further to depreciate. In principle, the USD can easily fall into this category as well, but right now the USD debate is focused on Fed policy – were it to become clear that balance sheet expansion will end well beyond end-2013, the USD would fall into the category of currency war ‘winners’ as well. Critically, though, the reality of currency wars is that policymakers do not use FX as cyclical stimulus because of its effectiveness; they use it because they have hit a wall with respect to the effectiveness of fiscal and monetary policies, and are unwilling to bite the structural policy bullet. The following seven points will be on every policymakers' mind - or should be.
Determining the “pain threshold” beyond which the euro appreciation would significantly impair the recovery is crucial at this juncture. Deutsche Bank's quantification of this “pain threshold”, is not fixed but depends critically on the pace of global growth. If world demand accelerates from a current pace of 1.3% YoY to 4.2% YoY by Q3 2013 (30% below trend), as per OECD forecasts, the EURUSD exchange rate which would be consistent with maintained competitiveness would stand at 1.37 (not far from where we are). However, if growth is lower (as we humbly suspect) the threshold for currency strength to hamper growth is considerably below current levels.
While the overnight session has been relatively quiet, the overarching theme has been a simple one: currency warfare, as more of the world wakes up to what the BOJ is doing and doesn't like it. The latest entrants in global warfare: Taiwan, whose central bank overnight said it would step in the FX market if needed, then Thailand, whose currency was weakened on market adjustment according to Prasarn, and of course South Korea, where the BOK said that global currency war spreads protectionism. Last but not least was China which brought out the big guns after the PBOC deputy governor Yi Gang "warned on currency wars." To wit: "Quantitative easing for developed economies is generating some uncertainties in financial markets in terms of capital flows,” Yi, who is also head of China’s foreign-exchange regulator, told reporters. “Competitive devaluation is one aspect of it. If everyone is doing super QE, which currency will depreciate?” “A currency war, a series of tit-for-tat competitive devaluations, would trigger trade protection measures that would damage global trade and therefore growth globally,” said Louis Kuijs, chief China economist at Royal Bank of Scotland Plc in Hong Kong, who previously worked for the World Bank. “That would not be good for any country with a stake in the global economy.” Which brings us to the fundamental question - if everyone eases, has anyone eased? And is there such a thing as a free lunch when central banks simply finance global deficits while eating their soaring stock market cake too? The answer, of course, is no, but we will cross that bridge soon enough.
As we recently noted, the US Macro picture is considerably less sanguine than every talking head would have you believe. Not only are earnings for Q4 coming in notably weak, but the top-down macro picture is its worst in almost five months - and turned negative this week. Of course, the fact that our 'market' is dislocated from any sense of reality will come as no surprise to anyone; but, the chart below provides some, perhaps useful, insight into how to trade this disconnect (and its inevitable convergence). To add a little more impetus to this decision, the past two weeks have seen the US macro picture drop at its fastest rate since June 2011 - right before the last debt-ceiling debate, which was followed by a quite notable decline in stocks.
"Regardless of what the markets do near-term, a correction is overdue," Marc Faber tells Bloomberg TV's Betty Liu. From discussing Europe's 'apparent' stabilization - "anything can go up when you print money"; to US equity exuberance - "a correction is overdue and February is a seasonally weak month"; Faber sees no change from Geithner's handover to Lew as he opines: "The only thing I know is one day the markets will punish the interventionists, the Keynesians and the monetary policy that the Federal Reserve and ECB has enforced because the markets will be more powerful one day. How will this look like? Will the bond market collapse or equity markets become a bubble, which would be embarrassing for the Fed's sake if the U.S. market became a gigantic bubble and at the same time the economy does not recover."
In a quiet corner of Davos this week, Davide Serra (hedge fund manager) and Nouriel Roubini (doom-monger) laid out to the great and good attending just exactly what their puppet central-banking transmission channels were doing to our world. As The Telegraph reports, "Money printing is theft from our children and may merely be storing up problems for an even bigger crisis." QE has led to gross mis-allocation of capital, the two gentlemen go on to note, adding that they comprehend the reasoning why Bernanke's Put has replaced Greenspan's but add that in doing this money-printing-by-another-name, they have "made it difficult for bond vigilantes to do their job - force fiscal reform." QE just buys time - but the time must be used wisely. Roubini warned that central bankers need to think about turning off the cheap money tap or risk creating another, possibly even worse, bubble.
At this point it has gotten painfully tedious, and the one phrase to describe trading is - Same Pattern Different Day. With equity futures closing decidedly weak on earnings reality after US market close, the slowly, steady overnight ramp seen every single day for the past month has returned as always, this time on yet another largely expected German confidence indicator beat (following the just as irrationally exuberant ZEW some time ago, and yesterday's far better than expected PMI), this time the IFO Business Climate, which printed at 104.2, on expectations of 103 and up from 102.4. This was driven by both the current assessment rising from 107.1 to 108 and the Expectations rising from 97.9 to 100.5. Naturally, all confidence indicators will be skewed in a way to prevent the market from doubting for a second that Germany may actually succumb to the same recession that has gripped all other European countries (which Germany is an inch away from after its negative Q4 GDP). In other words: there is hope. As for reality, UK Q4 GDP came in at -0.3% on expectations of a far lower drop to -0.1%, and down from the olympics-boosted 0.9% in Q3. The UK certainly can't wait for Mark Carney to come and show them how cable devaluation is really done, cause this time it will be different, if only it wasn't different for everyone else.
Three main forces are at work today: 1) The continued decline in the yen--driven by more evidence of deflation and more jawboning. 2) Poor UK data and weak underlying technicals extend sterling's losses. 3) Stronger German ZEW survey and the repayment fo 137.2 bln euros from 278 banks.
“Those are my principles,” Marx said. “And if you don't like them... well, I have others.”
We have noted the odd cyclicality in macro data (and its leading effect on the market) and it seems Goldman Sachs has also noticed that something is different this time. For 15 years, the seasonal patterns in Goldman's macro index have been mild to totally negligible; but since 2009, something changed. As the chart below indicates, it really is different this time as the macro cycle has become extremely short and consistent (drop in H1, rise in H2) - and is evident not just top-down but bottom-up in payrolls and ISM for instance. Goldman expounds pages of statistical jiggery-pokery to show what we suspected - that this is not weather or seasonality effects, and is not just US (UK and Europe see same pattern of six month cycles); but appears driven by central-bank policy actions (which have been more concentrated in Q4/Q1). 2013 is playing out exactly as the last three years has - with a downdraft that is set to continue for the next few months - though they note that stability in oil prices this time (and recent expansion of easing efforts - Fed and BoJ) may shift the pattern. For now, it appears the macro cycle is becoming shorter and warrants concern as they are unable to find anything but 'reality' as a driver of this odd cyclical pattern as the real economy fades rapidly after each and every infusion of promises from the Central Banks.
Starting tomorrow and every Friday for the next few years, the ECB will report the number of banks and the amount of funds they will repay of the 3-year repo operations conducted in late 2011 and early 2012. For those who do not have the luxury of following these developments closely, I have put together a 10 point cheat sheet.
The reliable data which policymakers and the public need if effective solutions are to be found is not available. As Tullett Prebon's Tim Morgan notes, economic data has been subjected to incremental distortion; Data distortion can be divided into two categories. Economic data has been undermined by decades of methodological change which have distorted the statistics to the point where no really accurate data is available for the critical metrics of inflation, growth, output, unemployment or debt. Fiscal data, meanwhile, obscures the true scale of government obligations. While he does not believe that the debauching of US official data is the result of any grand conspiracy to mislead the American people; he does see it as an incremental process which has taken place over more than four decades. From 'owner equivalent rent" to 'hedonics', few series have been distorted more than published numbers for inflation, and few if any economic measures are of comparable importance; and the ramifications of understated inflation are huge.
Since Alan Greenspan became the Fed chairman in 1987, there has been a policy consensus on the primary role and effectiveness of monetary policy in cushioning an economic downturn and kicking it back to growth. Fiscal policy, due to the political difficulties in making meaningful changes, was relegated to a minor role in economic management. Staving off crisis and reviving growth still dominate today's conversation. The prima facie evidence is that the experiment has failed. The dominant voice in policy discussions is advocating more of the same. When a medicine isn't working, it could be the wrong one or the dosage isn't sufficient. The world is trying the latter. But, if the medicine is really wrong, more and more of the same will kill the patient one day. The global economy was a debt bubble, functioning on China over-borrowing and investing and the West over-borrowing and consuming. The dynamic came to an end when the debt crises exposed debt levels in the West as too high. The last source of debt growth, the U.S. government, is coming to an end, too, as politics forces it to reduce the deficit. Trying to bring back yesterday through monetary growth will eventually bring inflation, not growth.
Currency wars have captured the imagination of many. However, the modern history of the foreign exchange market demonstrates that is has always been an arena in which nation-states compete. Typically central banks want the currency's exchange rate to affirm not contradict monetary policy. The synchronized crisis and easier monetary policy makes it appear that nearly ever one wants a weak currency. Yet most officials are on low rungs of the intervention escalation ladder. Moreover, there is no sign of it spilling over to a trade war. Has any one else noticed that Japan's largest trading partner and regional rival China has been quiet, not joining the the chorus of criticism?
Heading into the North American open, equities are trading in minor negative territory, led lower by banks as markets look forward to the first LTRO repayment, as well as lingering concerns that losses from derivatives contracts by Monte Paschi (entered with Nomura) may undermine the lender’s earnings. Monte Paschi shares opened 8% lower and were halted by the exchange to prevent a further slide in share price. As a result, even though EUR/USD is trading higher and peripheral bond yield spread are tighter, Bunds are trading in minor positive territory. Of note, Spain’s Iberian neighbour Portugal opened books for its 2017 bond and books are said to be around EUR 10bln, with guidance at MS+395bps (down from original MS+410bps). EUR/USD has also benefited from the decision by the Portuguese Treasury to tap capital markets only a day after a successful placement by Spain yesterday. Looking elsewhere, even though USD/JPY has bounced off earlier lows, implied vols continue to trade heavy as option decay and re-positioning post the BoJ decision weighs on prices. So much so that R/R has slipped to Sep levels, but still favours bets on further JPY depreciation.