Can the ECB save the Euro again?

A feature of the credit crunch and the Euro area crisis has been the behaviour of the European Central Bank or ECB. It’s role has massively expanded from the official one of aiming for an inflation rate ( CPI and thereby ignoring owner-occupied housing) of close to but just below 2%. In fact in his valedictory speech the former ECB President Jean Claude Trichet defined it as 1.97%. However times have changed and the next President upped the ante with his “Whatever it takes ( to save the Euro) speech giving the ECB roles beyond inflation targeting. But Mario Draghi also regularly told us that the ECB was a “rules-based organisation.”

On 18 March 2020, the Governing Council also decided that to the extent some self-imposed limits might hamper
action that the Eurosystem is required to take in order to fulfil its mandate, the Governing Council will consider
revising them to the extent necessary to make its action proportionate to the risks faced. ( ECB )

Well not those rules anyway which limited purchases to 33% of a bond. Oh and the rules against monetary financing seem to be getting more shall we say flexible too.

The residual maturity of public sector securities purchased under the PEPP ranges from 70 days up to 30 years and 364 days. For private securities eligible under the CSPP, the maturity range is from 28 days up to 30 years and 364 days. For ABSPP and CBPP3-eligible securities, no maturity restrictions apply. ( ECB)

There were rules which meant that Greece would not qualify for QE too but as we noted before they have gone.

 In addition, the PEPP includes a waiver of the eligibility requirements for securities issued by the Greek Government.

So as you can see the rules are only there until they become inconvenient. What we do not so far have unlike as has been claimed by some if that this policy is unlimited, although of course after all the ch-ch-changes it would hardly be a surprise if the new 750 billion Euro programme ended up being larger. Oh and they join their central banking cousins with this.

The additional temporary envelope of €750 billion under the PEPP is separate from and in addition to the net purchases under the APP.

Ah Temporary we know what that means…..

Bond Markets

These will be regarded as a success by the ECB as for example the ten-year yield in Germany is -0.44%. So in spite of the announcement of an extra 350 billion in debt to be issued Germany continues to be paid to borrow. So the ECB will regard itself as essentially financing the new German fiscal policy.

At the other end of the spectrum is Italy where the public finances are much worse. But the ten-year yield is 1.3% which is far below the nearly 3% it rose to after ECB President Lagarde stated that it was not its role to deal with “bond spreads” managing in one sentence to undo the main aim of her predecessor. As you can see the bond yield is under control in fact very strict control and I will return to this later.

Fiscal Policy

The ECB will be happy to see individual countries loosen the purse strings and especially Germany. The latter is something it has been keen on as the credit crunch develops. It is after all the largest economy and has had the most flexibility to do so. It would also help with the imbalances in both the Euro and world economies. However the collective response will have disappointed it.

We take note of the progress made by the Eurogroup. At this stage, we invite the Eurogroup to present proposals to us within two weeks.

At a time like this that seems a lot more than just leisurely. From the US Department of Labor.

In the week ending March 21, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 3,283,000, an increase of 3,001,000 from the previous week’s revised level. This marks the highest level of seasonally adjusted initial claims in the history of the seasonally adjusted series. The previous high was 695,000 in October of 1982.

That is for the US and not the Euro area but it does give us a handle on the size of the economic shock reverberating around the world. If it was a drum beat then it would require Keith Moon to play it.

Italy

We have some economic news from Italy but before I get to it we were updated this month by the IMF.

Compared to the staff report, staff have revised the growth forecast for 2020 down from about ½ percent to about ‒½ percent.

Actually that’s what we thought before all this. Please fell free to laugh at the next bit.

Altogether, staff projects an overall deficit of 2.6 percent of GDP in 2020

At some point they do seem to get a grip but then lose it in the medium-term.

Given the escalated lockdown measures and the wider
outbreak across Europe, there is a high risk of a notably weaker outturn. Growth over the medium term is projected at around 0.7 percent, although this too is subject to uncertainty about the duration and extent of the crisis.

I have long been critical of these long-term forecasts which frankly do more to reflect the author’s own personal biases than any likely reality.

If we switch to the Statistics Office we were told this earlier.

In March 2020, the consumer confidence climate slumped from 110.9 to 101.0. The heavy deterioration affected all index components. More specifically, the economic climate plummeted from 121.9 to 96.2, the personal one deteriorated from 107.8 to 102.4, the current one went down from 110.6 to 104.8 and, finally, the future one collapsed from 112.0 to 94.8.

Grim numbers indeed and as they only went up to the 13th of this month we would expect them to be even worse now.

Also there was something of a critique of the Markit IHS manufacturing numbers from earlier this week as this is much worse than indicated there.

The confidence index in manufacturing drastically reduced passing from 98.8 to 89.5. The assessments on order books fell from -15.6 to -23.9 and the expectations on production dropped from 0.7 to -17.1.

Retail too was hit hard.

The retail trade confidence index plummeted from 106.9 to 97.4. The drastic worsening affected in particular the expectations on future business whose balance tumbled from 28.0 to -9.4.

Comment

I have so far avoided the issue of Eurobonds or as they have been rebranded Corona Bonds. Mario Draghi wrote a piece in the Financial Times essentially arguing for them but there are clear issues. One is the grip on reality being displayed.

In some respects, Europe is well equipped to deal with this extraordinary shock. It has a granular financial structure able to channel funds to every part of the economy that needs it. It has a strong public sector able to co-ordinate a rapid policy response. Speed is absolutely essential for effectiveness.

Can we really see the Italian banking sector for example doing this?

And it has to be done immediately, avoiding bureaucratic delays. Banks in particular extend across the entire economy and can create money instantly by allowing overdrafts or opening credit facilities.  Banks must rapidly lend funds at zero cost to companies prepared to save jobs.

As to the general precept I agree that people and businesses need help but Mario is rather hoist by his own petard here. After all he and his colleagues wrote out a prescription of negative interest-rates and wide scale QE. There was some boasting about a Euroboom which quickly faded. Now the Euro area faces the consequences as for example the Euro exchange rate is boosted as carry trades ( to take advantage of negative interest-rates) get reversed.

Meanwhile according to his former colleague Vitor Constancio negative interest-rates are nothing to do with those who voted for them apparently.

You have certainly noticed that market interest rates have been going down for 40 years, well long before CBs were doing QE and buying investment grade bonds.

If so should they hand their salary back?

Let me express my sympathy for those suffering in Italy and elsewhere at this time.

What can the UK do in the face of an economic depression?

We are facing quite a crisis and let us hope that we will end up looking at a period that might have been described by the famous Dickens quote from A Tale of Two Cities.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.

The reason I put it like that is because we have examples of the worst of times from food hoarders to examples of an extreme economic slowdown. On a personal level I had only just finished talking to a friend who had lost 2 of his 3 jobs when I passed someone on the street talking about her friend losing his job. Then yesterday I received this tweet.

Funny, Barclays quoted me 18% interest on a £10k business loan this morning to keep my employees paid, unfortunately the state will now need to pay them. Bonkers! ( @_insole )

If we look at events in the retail and leisure sector whilst there are small flickers of good news there are large dollops of really bad news. Accordingly this is a depression albeit like so many things these days it might be over relatively quickly for a depression in say a few months. Of course the latter is unknown in terms of timing. But people on low wages especially are going to need help as not only will they be unable to keep and feed themselves they will be forced to work if they can even if they are ill. In terms of public health that would be a disaster.

Also I fear this from the Bank of England Inflation Survey this morning may be too low.

Question 2b: Asked about expected inflation in the twelve months after that, respondents gave a median answer of 2.9%, remaining the same as in November.

Whilst there are factors which will reduce inflation such as the lower oil price will come into play there are factors the other way. Because of shortages there will be rises in the price of food and vital purchases as illustrated below from the BBC.

A pharmacy which priced bottles of Calpol at £19.99 has been criticised for the “extortionate” move.

A branch of West Midlands-based chain Jhoots had 200ml bottles of the liquid paracetamol advertised at about three times its usual price.

The UK Pound

If we now switch to financial markets we have seen some wild swings here. The UK Pound always comes under pressure in a financial crisis because of our large financial sector and as I looked at on Wednesday we are in a period of King Dollar strength. Or at least we were as it has weakened overnight with the UK Pound £ bouncing to above US $1.18 this morning. Now with markets as they are we could be in a lot of places by the time you read this but for now the extension of the Federal Reserve liquidity swaps to more countries has calmed things.

Perhaps we get more of a guide from the Euro where as discussed in the comments recently we have been in a poor run. But we have bounced over the past couple of days fro, 1.06 to 1.10 which I think teaches us that the UK Pound £ is a passenger really now. We get hit by any fund liquidations and then rally at any calmer point.

The Bank of England

It held an emergency meeting yesterday and then announced this.

At its special meeting on 19 March, the MPC judged that a further package of measures was warranted to meet its statutory objectives.  It therefore voted unanimously to increase the Bank of England’s holdings of UK government bonds and sterling non-financial investment-grade corporate bonds by £200 billion to a total of £645 billion, financed by the issuance of central bank reserves; and to reduce Bank Rate by 15 basis points to 0.1%.  The Committee also voted unanimously that the Bank of England should enlarge the Term Funding Scheme with additional incentives for SMEs (TFSME).

Let me start with the interest-rate reduction which is simply laughable especially if we note what the business owner was offered above. One of my earliest blog topics was the divergence between official and real world interest-rates and now a 0.1% Bank Rate faces 40% overdraft rates. Next we have the issue that 0.5% was supposed to be the emergency rate so 0.1% speaks for itself. Oh and for those wondering why they have chosen 0.1% as the lower bound ( their description not mine) it is because they still feel that the UK banks cannot take negative interest-rates and is nothing to do with the rest of the economy. So in an irony the banks are by default doing us a favour although we have certainly paid for it!

QE

Let us now move onto this and the Bank of England is proceeding at express pace.

Operations to make gilt purchases will commence on 20 March 2020 when the Bank intends to purchase £5.1bn of gilts spread evenly between short, medium and long maturity buckets.  These operations will last for 30 minutes from 12.15 (short), 13.15 (medium) and 14.15 (long).

But wait there is more.

Prior to the 19 March announcement the Bank was in the process of reinvesting of the £17.5bn cash flows associated with the maturity on 7 March 2016 of a gilt owned by the APF.

As noted above, and consistent with supporting current market conditions, the Bank will complete the remaining £10.2bn of gilt purchases by conducting sets of auctions (short, medium, long maturity sectors) on Friday 20 March and Monday 23 March (i.e. three auctions on each day).

So there will be a total of £10.2 billion of QE purchases today and although it has not explicitly said so presumably the same for Monday. As you can imagine this has had quite an impact on the Gilt market as the ten-year yield which had risen to 1% yesterday lunchtime is now 0.59%. The two-year yield has fallen to 0.08% so we are back in the zone where a negative Gilt yield is possible. Frankly it will depend on how aggressively the Bank of England buys its £200 billion.

The next bit was really vague.

The Committee also voted unanimously that the Bank of England should enlarge the Term Funding Scheme with additional incentives for SMEs (TFSME)……

Following today’s special meeting of the MPC the Initial Borrowing Allowance for the TFSME will be increased from 5% to 10% of participants’ stock of real economy lending, based on the Base Stock of Applicable Loans.

Ah so it wasn’t going to be the triumph they told us only last week then? I hope this will do some good but the track record of such schemes is that they boost the banks ( cheap liquidity) and house prices ( more and cheaper mortgage finance).

We did also get some humour.

As part of the increase in APF asset purchases the MPC has approved an increase in the stock of purchases of sterling corporate bonds, financed by central bank reserves.

Last time around this was a complete joke as the Bank of England ended up buying foreign firms to fill its quota. For example I have nothing against the Danish shipping firm Maersk but even they must have been surprised to see the Bank of England buying their bonds.

Comment

There are people and businesses out there that need help and in the former case simply to eat. So there are real challenges here because if Bank of England action pushes prices higher it will make things worse. But the next steps are for the Chancellor who has difficult choices because on the other side of the coin many of the measures above will simply support the Zombie companies and banks which have held us back.

Also this is a dreadful time for economics 101. I opened by pointing out that unemployment will rise and maybe by a lot and so will prices and hence inflation. That is not supposed to happen. Then the UK announces more QE and the UK Pound £ rises although of course it is easier to state who is not doing QE now! I guess the Ivory Towers who so confidently made forecasts for the UK economy out to 2030 are now using their tippex, erasers and delete buttons. Meanwhile in some sort of Star Trek alternative universe style event Chris Giles of the Financial Times is tweeting this.

In a moment of irritation, am amazed at how little UK public science has learnt from economics – making mistakes no good economist has made in 50 years Economists have been beating themselves up for a decade Shoe now on other foot…

Podcast

 

Is it to be QE for everyone and everywhere?

It was only yesterday that I signed off with the heat is on and indeed it was. That was true if you looked at the fall in the UK Pound or the Norwegian Krona and even more so with crude oil. In response there was an evening emergency meeting ( by telephone) of the European Central Bank. This was because it had been on the back foot in several of its bond markets in spite of its announcement of more QE ( Quantitative Easing) bond buying as recently as last Thursday. In Italy the benchmark ten-year yield approached 3% and reignited crisis fears. So let us go to the response and the emphasis is mine.

To launch a new temporary asset purchase programme of private and public sector securities to counter the serious risks to the monetary policy transmission mechanism and the outlook for the euro area posed by the outbreak and escalating diffusion of the coronavirus, COVID-19.

We know what temporary means as for example the original emergency interest-rate cuts were supposed to be that as was the original QE and negative interest-rates. They are all still here. In a way that is the difference this time around as central bank action is supposed to be reversed a few years later when things are better but that never happened. Instead it is “More! More! More!”

This new Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme (PEPP) will have an overall envelope of €750 billion. Purchases will be conducted until the end of 2020 and will include all the asset categories eligible under the existing asset purchase programme (APP).

Actually they highlight my temporary point because that feels like an end date but later we get this.

The Governing Council will terminate net asset purchases under PEPP once it judges that the coronavirus Covid-19 crisis phase is over, but in any case not before the end of the year.

Number-Crunching

There are various perspectives to this as assuming they started immediately which they have then there will now be around 115 billion Euros of QE bond purchases from the ECB. There was also this for Italy.

If capital key is fully respected this means almost 10.5 bln additional monthly purchases of BTPs, for the next 9 months. #BringItON  ( @gusbaratta)

As you can see Gus was enthusiastic. I do not know if he was long the market but anyway it seemed set to offer some relief to hard-pressed Italy.

There was also something that looks set to be significant but has got a little lost in the fog.

To the extent that some self-imposed limits might hamper action that the ECB is required to take in order to fulfil its mandate, the Governing Council will consider revising them to the extent necessary to make its action proportionate to the risks that we face.

That made me thing of the capital key point made by Gus where purchases are proportionate to each country’s share in the ECB itself, This is mostly but not entirely related to the size of their economy. So clearing the decks in case Italy for example needs more and also at the other end of the scale should they run out of bonds to buy in the Netherlands or Germany.

Also there was a plan for Greece.

A waiver of the eligibility requirements for securities issued by the Greek government will be granted for purchases under PEPP.

Rather curiously there are not that many Greek bonds to buy because they have bought so many in the past! The European Stability Mechanism has a very large holding for example.

Together, the EFSF and ESM disbursed €204 billion to Greece, and now hold more than half of its public debt.

Market Reaction

It seems as though the ECB has steamed in this morning all guns blazing or as they put it.

At the same time, purchases under the new PEPP will be conducted in a flexible manner. This allows for fluctuations in the distribution of purchase flows over time, across asset classes and among jurisdictions.

This has seen the Italian bond future rally over 8 points to 138 as the ten-year yield fell to 1.7%. This is a tactical success although care is needed as only central bankers regard paying much more for something as a success. It should help Italy relax fiscal policy if it is sustained. However, there is a deeper perspective which is that some short of Italian bonds will have been screaming for the financial stretcher-bearers and may not return. Please remember that if down the road we see central bankers and their acolytes complaining of a lack of liquidity.

The situation in equity markets is not so happy because as I type this the Dax of Germany is some 1% lower although the EuroStoxx 50 is hanging onto a few points gain.

The Euro

This is off 1% versus the US Dollar at 1.083 but as we looked at yesterday we are seeing a phase of King Dollar so the picture is blurry. We maybe learn a little that the Euro has slipped against the UK Pound £ but the move is much smaller than its gain yesterday so again we learn not much. So lower yes but we have no way of knowing if the QE has contributed much here in another fail for economics 101.

On that subject someone has announced this morning that they are buying.

The SNB is intervening more strongly in the foreign exchange market to contribute to the stabilisation of
the situation. ( Swiss National Bank)

Australia

It feels like yesterday when the Reserve Bank of Australia announced it might do QE if interest-rates were cut to 0.25%. Well this morning we learnt that beds may be burning in the land of midnight oil.

A reduction in the cash rate target to 0.25 per cent.

Followed by.

A target for the yield on 3-year Australian Government bonds of around 0.25 per cent.

This will be achieved through purchases of Government bonds in the secondary market. Purchases of Government bonds and semi-government securities across the yield curve will be conducted to help achieve this target as well as to address market dislocations. These purchases will commence tomorrow.

As I have pointed out earlier please remember the “market dislocations” bit should liquidity disappear and the RBA complains about it.

Poland

Earlier this week the Polish central bank joined the party.

NBP will also purchase government bonds on the secondary
market as part of the structural operations that change the long-term liquidity structure in the banking sector and contribute to maintaining the liquidity in the government bond secondary market.

Notice how they are getting a liquidity denial in early? Also they did this.

The Council decided to cut the NBP reference rate by 0.5 percentage points, i.e. to 1.00%

Bank of Korea

From Bloomberg.

The Bank of Korea plans to buy $1.2 billion in government bonds to stabilize markets

I would imagine the central banking dark web is full of messages saying “lightweights” after starting with such a small amount.

Comment

When the credit crunch started some central banks sung along with Huey Lewis and te News.

I want a new drug, one that won’t hurt my head
One that won’t make my mouth too dry
Or make my eyes too red

As time has passed more joined in and now the chorus is deafening as more join the QE party. I expect that there will be more in terms of volume for existing players and more new entrants because it is now about oiling the wheels of fiscal policy. When central banks were made “independent” this was not the purpose ( they are not that bright) but the traditional bureaucratic way of appointing people who are to coin a phrase “one of us” means that actually they are doing more than elected politicians would be allowed to. There is a democracy deficit hidden behind the crisis measures.

The picture is complex as there are many areas which badly need help right now. On a personal level in a short space of time I heard about 2 people losing jobs and a business owner losing work. But the history of central bank action is that it favours big not small business or the self employed. One certainty is that once we get any bit of stability the money will pour into the housing market as banks find that easy to do.

Meanwhile we are reminded that mistakes can be very expensive but not for our lords and masters.

Last Thursday: Lagarde says ECB is not there to close bond spreads

Tonight: ECB announces an extra 750 billion of QE to close bond spreads

 

The world wants and needs US Dollars and it wants them now

In the midst if the financial market turmoil there has been a consistent theme which can be missed. Currency markets rarely get too much of a look in on the main stream media unless they can find something dramatic. But CNN Business has given it a mention.

The US dollar is rallying against virtually every other currency and it seems like nothing can stop it.

There are lots of consequences and implications here but let us start with some numbers. My home country has seen an impact as the UK Pound £ has been pushed back to US $1.20 and even the Euro which has benefited from Carry Trade reversals ( people borrowed in Euros to take advantage of negative interest-rates) has been pushed below 1.10. Even the Japanese Yen which is considered a safe haven in such times has been pushed back to 107.50. We can get more thoughts on this from The Straits Times from earlier today.

SYDNEY (REUTERS) – The Australian dollar was ravaged on Wednesday (March 18) after toppling to 17-year lows as fears of a coronavirus-induced global recession sent investors fleeing from risk assets and commodities, with panic selling even spilling over into sovereign bonds.

The New Zealand dollar was also on the ropes at US$0.5954, having shed 1.7 per cent overnight to the lowest since mid-2009.

The Aussie was pinned at US$0.6004 after sliding 2 per cent on Tuesday to US$0.5958, depths not seen since early 2003.

So there are issues ans especially in a land down under as an Aussie Dollar gets closer to the value of a Kiwi one. In fact the Aussie has been hit again today falling to US $0.5935 as I type this. No doubt it is being affected by lower commodity prices signalled in some respects by Dr. Copper falling by over 4% to US $2.20

Sadly the effective or trade-weighted index is not up to date but as of the 13th of this month the official US Federal Reserve version was at 120.7 as opposed to the 115 it began the year.

Demand for Dollars

It was only on Monday we looked at the modifications to the liquidity or FX Swaps between the world’s main central banks. Hot off the wires is this.

BoE Allots $8.210B In 7 Day USD Repo Operation ( @LiveSquawk )

This means that even in the UK we are seeing demands for US Dollars which cannot be easily got in the markets right now. Maybe whoever this is has been pushing the UK Pound £ down but we get a perspective by the fact that this facility had not been used since mid-December when the grand sum of $5 million was requested. There were larger requests back in November 2008.

I was surprised that so little notice was taken when I pointed this out yesterday.

Interesting to see the Bank of Japan supply some US $30.3 billion this morning until June 11th. Was it Japanese banks who were needing dollars?

Completing the set comes the European Central Bank or ECB.

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – The European Central Bank on Wednesday lent euro zone banks $112 billion at two auctions aimed at easing stress in the U.S. dollar funding market, part of the financial fallout of the coronavirus outbreak.

The ECB said it had allotted $75.82 billion in its new 84-day auction, introduced by major central banks last weekend in response to global demand for greenbacks, and $36.27 billion at its regular 7-day tender.

Actually it was good the ECB found the time as it is otherwise busy arguing with itself.

With regards to comments made by Governor Holzmann, the ECB states:

The Governing Council was unanimous in its analysis that in addition to the measures it decided on 12 March 2020, the ECB will continue to monitor closely the consequences for the economy of the spreading coronavirus and that the ECB stands ready to adjust all of its measures, as appropriate, should this be needed to safeguard liquidity conditions in the banking system and to ensure the smooth transmission of its monetary policy in all jurisdictions.

So we see now why the Swap Lines were reinforced and buttressed.

Oh and even the Swiss Banks joined in.

*SNB GETS $315M BIDS FOR 84-DAY DOLLAR REPO ( @GregBeglaryan )

Emerging Markets

This is far worse and let me give you a different perspective on this. During the period of the trade war we looked regularly at the state of play in the Pacific as it was being disproportionately affected.

Let me hand you over to @Trinhnomics or Trinh Nguyen.

Swap lines to EM please (also to Australia – we like Australia in Asia too as it’s APAC). “the supply of liquidity by central banks is beneficial only to those who can access it,

Her concern was over that region and EM is Emerging Markets. I enquired further.

Operationally, the bid for USD in Asia and squeeze in liquidity reflects the massive role of the USD in the global economy & finance. For example, 87% of China merchandise trade is invoiced in US. and the loss of income from export earnings will further push higher the demand of USD. To overcome the global USD squeeze, the Fed must step up its operational support via swap lines with economies such as South Korea.

That was from a piece she wrote for the Financial Times but got cut from it. On twitter she went further with a theme regular readers will find familiar

Guys, the reason why we have a dollar shortage is because we have levered!!!!!!!!!!! So when income collapses, we got major problem because we have leveraged & so debt needs servicing etc. Aniwaize, the stress u see is because we live in a world that’s too leveraged!!!

And again although I would point out that leverage can simply be a gamble rather than a hope for better times.

Don’t forget that low rates only lower interest expense, u still got principal that is high if ur debt stock is high. When u lever, u think the FUTURE IS BETTER THAN TODAY. Obvs very clearly that whoever thought there was growth is in for a surprise given the pandemic situation.

She looks at this from the perspective of the Malaysian Ringgit which has fallen to 4.37 versus the US Dollar and the Singapore Dollar which is at 1.44.

Comment

We are now seeing a phase of King Dollar or Holla Dollar and let me add some more places into the mix. We have previously looked at countries which have borrowed in US Dollars and they will be feeling the strain especially if they are commodity producers as well. This covers quite a few countries in Latin America and of course some of those have their own problems too boot. I also recall Ukraine running the US Dollar as pretty much a parallel currency.

The beat goes on.

In times of stress, capital flees emerging markets to seek safety in $USD . This crisis is no different. ( @IceCapGlobal)

which got this reply.

Investors have yanked at least US$55bn from EMs since January 21, according to the Institute of International Finance, exceeding the withdrawal in 2008. ( @alexharfouche1 )

Let me finish by reminding you that ordinarily we discuss matters around the price of something. But here as well as that we are discussing how much you can get and for some right now that people will not trade with you at all. That is why we are seeing what is effectively the world’s central bank the Federal Reserve offering US Dollars in so many different ways. It is spraying US $500 billion Repo operations around like confetti but I am reminded of the words of Glenn Frey.

The heat is on, on the street
Inside your head, on every beat
And the beat’s so loud, deep inside
The pressure’s high, just to stay alive
‘Cause the heat is on

The Investment Channel

The biggest move by the US Federal Reserve was the one concerning liquidity or FX Swaps

Last night the week started with the arrival of the Kiwi cavalry as the Reserve Bank of New Zealand announced this.

The Official Cash Rate (OCR) is 0.25 percent, reduced from 1.0 percent, and will remain at this level for at least the next 12 months.

With international sporting events being cancelled this was unlikely to have been caused by a defeat for the All Blacks as the statement then confirmed.

The negative economic implications of the COVID-19 virus continue to rise warranting further monetary stimulus.

But soon any muttering in the virtual trading rooms was replaced by quite a roar as this was announced.

Consistent with its statutory mandate, the Committee seeks to foster maximum employment and price stability. The effects of the coronavirus will weigh on economic activity in the near term and pose risks to the economic outlook. In light of these developments, the Committee decided to lower the target range for the federal funds rate to 0 to 1/4 percent. The Committee expects to maintain this target range until it is confident that the economy has weathered recent events and is on track to achieve its maximum employment and price stability goals. This action will help support economic activity, strong labor market conditions, and inflation returning to the Committee’s symmetric 2 percent objective. ( US Federal Reserve)

So a 1% interest-rate cut to the previous credit crunch era low for interest-rates and whilst the timing was a surprise it was not a shock. This is because on Saturday evening President Donald Trump had ramped up the pressure by saying that he had the ability to fire the Chair Jeroen Powell. The odd points in the statement were the reference to returning to being “on track” for its objectives which seems like from another world as well as reminding people of Greece which has been “on track” to recovery all the way through its collapse into depression. Also “strong labor market conditions” is simply untrue now. All that is before the reference to inflation returning to target when some will be paying much higher prices for goods due to shortages.

QE5

This came sliding down the slipway last night which will have come as no surprise to regular readers who have followed to my “To Infinity! And Beyond!” theme.

To support the smooth functioning of markets for Treasury securities and agency mortgage-backed securities that are central to the flow of credit to households and businesses, over coming months the Committee will increase its holdings of Treasury securities by at least $500 billion and its holdings of agency mortgage-backed securities by at least $200 billion.

This is quite punchy as we note that the previous peak for its balance sheet was 4.5 trillion Dollars and now it will go above 5 trillion. The Repos may ebb and flow bad as we stand it looks set to head to 5.2 trillion or so. The odd part of the statement was the reference to the “smooth functioning” of the Treasury Bond market when buying such a large amount further reduces liquidity in a market with liquidity problems already. For those unaware off the run bonds ( non benchmarks) have been struggling recently. The situation for mortgage bonds is much clearer as some will no doubt be grateful for any buyers at all. Although whether buying the latter is a good idea for the US taxpayer underwriting all of this is a moot point. At least the money used is effectively free at around 0%.

Liquidity Swaps

This was the most significant announcement of all for two reasons. Firstly it was the only one which was coordinated and secondly because it stares at the heart of one of the main problems right now. Cue Aloe Blacc.

I need a dollar dollar, a dollar is what I need
Hey hey
Well I need a dollar dollar, a dollar is what I need
Hey hey
And I said I need dollar dollar, a dollar is what I need
And if I share with you my story would you share your dollar with me
Bad times are comin’ and I reap what I don’t sow.

I have suggested several times recently that there will be banks and funds in trouble right now as we see simultaneous moves in bond, equity and oil markets. That will only be getting worse as the price of a barrel of Brent Crude Oil approaches US $31. This means that some – and the rumour factory will be at full production – will be finding hard to get US Dollars and some may not be able to get them at all. So the response is that the main central banks will be able to.

The Bank of Canada, the Bank of England, the Bank of Japan, the European Central Bank, the Federal Reserve, and the Swiss National Bank are today announcing a coordinated action to enhance the provision of liquidity via the standing U.S. dollar liquidity swap line arrangements.

These central banks have agreed to lower the pricing on the standing U.S. dollar liquidity swap arrangements by 25 basis points, so that the new rate will be the U.S. dollar overnight index swap (OIS) rate plus 25 basis points.

So it appears that price matters for some giving us a hint of the scale of the issue here. If I recall correct a 0.5% cut was made as the credit crunch got into gear. Also there was this enhancement to the operations.

 To increase the swap lines’ effectiveness in providing term liquidity, the foreign central banks with regular U.S. dollar liquidity operations have also agreed to begin offering U.S. dollars weekly in each jurisdiction with an 84-day maturity, in addition to the 1-week maturity operations currently offered. These changes will take effect with the next scheduled operations during the week of March 16.

Then we got something actively misleading because the real issue here is for overseas markets.

The new pricing and maturity offerings will remain in place as long as appropriate to support the smooth functioning of U.S. dollar funding markets.

For newer readers wondering who these might be? The main borrowers in recent times have been the European Central Bank and less so the Bank of Japan. This is repeated at the moment as some US $58 million was borrowed by a Euro area bank last week. Very small scale but maybe a toe in the water.

Comment

Some of the things I have feared are taking place right now. We see for example more and more central banks clustering around an interest-rate of 0% or ZIRP ( Zero Interest-Rate Policy). Frankly I expect more as you know my view on official denials.

#BREAKING Fed’s Powell says negative interest rates not likely to be appropriate ( @AFP )

You could also throw in the track record of the Chair of the US Federal Reserve for (bad) luck.

Meanwhile rumours of fund collapses are rife.

Platinum down 18%, silver down 14% Palladium down 12%, Gold down 4% – someone is getting liquidated ( @econhedge )

Some of that may be self-fulfilling but there is a message in that particular bottle.

As to what happens next? I will update more as this week develops but I expect more fiscal policy back stopped by central banks. More central banks to buy equities as I note the Bank of Japan announced earlier it will double its operations this year. Helicopter Money is a little more awkward though as gathering to collect it would spread the Corona Virus. As Bloc Party put it.

Are you hoping for a miracle? (it’s not enough, it’s not enough)
Are you hoping for a miracle? (it’s not enough, it’s not enough)
Are you hoping for a miracle? (it’s not enough, it’s not enough)
Are you hoping for a miracle? (it’s not enough, it’s not enough)

Let me sign off for today by welcoming the new Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey.

Podcast

I would signpost the second part of it this week as eyes will turn to the problems in the structure of the ECB likely to be exposed in a crisis.

 

 

What can the ECB and European Commission do to help the Euro area economy?

Today our focus switches to the Euro area and the European Central Bank as we await a big set piece event from the ECB. However as is his wont The Donald has rather grabbed the initiative overnight. From the Department of Homeland Security.

(WASHINGTON) Today President Donald J. Trump signed a Presidential Proclamation, which suspends the entry of most foreign nationals who have been in certain European countries at any point during the 14 days prior to their scheduled arrival to the United States. These countries, known as the Schengen Area, include: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.

I have pointed it out in this manner as sadly the mainstream media is misreporting it with Beth Rigby of Sky News for example tweeting it as Europe. Much of it yes but not all of it. Moving on to our regular economics beat this will impact on an area we looked at back on the 27th of February.

Announcing the new findings, ENIT chief Giorgio Palmucci said tourism accounted for 13 percent of Italy’s gross domestic product…… tourism-related spending by both French residents and non-residents, represents around 7.5% of GDP (5% for residents, 2.5% for non-residents)…..This figure represented 11.7% of GDP, 0.4% more than in 2016.  ( Spain)

Numbers must have been hit already in what is as you can see an important economic area. One sector of this is illustrated by the German airline Lufthansa which has a share price dipping below 9 Euros or down 11% today as opposed to over 15 Euros as recently as the 19th of February. There are the beginnings of an official response as you can see from @LiveSquawk below.

Spanish Foreign Minister Gonzalez: Spain To Special Steps To Support Tourism

I presume the minister means the tourism sector here as there is nothing that can be done about current tourism as quarantines and the like move in exactly the opposite direction.

There is also the specific case of Italy where it is easier now I think to say what is open rather than closed. As the economic numbers will be out of date we can try and get a measure from the stock market. We see that the FTSE MIB index is at 17,000 as I type this as opposed to 25,477 on the 19th of last month. It is of course far from a perfect measure but it is at least timely and we get another hint from the bond market. Here we see for all the talk of yield falls elsewhere the ten-year yield has risen to 1.3% as opposed to the 0.9% it had fallen to. That is a signal that there are fears for how much the economy will shrink and how this will affect debt dynamics albeit we also get a sign of the times that an economic contraction that looks large like this only raises bond yields by a small amount.

Meanwhile actual economic data as just realised was better.

In January 2020 compared with December 2019, seasonally adjusted industrial production rose by 2.3% in the euro area (EA19) and by 2.0% in the EU27, according to estimates from Eurostat, the statistical office of the
European Union. In December 2019, industrial production fell by 1.8% in the euro area and by 1.6% in the EU27.

The accompanying chart shows a pick-up in spite of this also being true.

In January 2020 compared with January 2019, industrial production decreased by 1.9% in the euro area and by
1.5% in the EU27.

The problem is that such numbers now feel like they are from a different economic age.

The Euro

This has been strengthening through this phase as we note that the ECB effective or trade weighted index was 94.9 on the 19th of February and was 98.14 yesterday. So if there is a currency war it is losing.

As to causes I think there is a bit of a Germany effect an the interrelated trade surplus. But the main player seems to be the return of the carry trade as Reuters noted this time last year.

On the other hand, the Japanese yen, Swiss franc and euro tend to be carry traders’ funding currencies of choice, as their low yields make them attractive to sell.

Yields in Switzerland on the benchmark bond return -0.35 percent; in Germany barely 0.07 percent. But the euro has been particularly popular this year as the struggling economy has further delayed policy tightening plans in the bloc.

Of course both Euro interest-rates and yields went lower later in the year as the ECB eased policy yet again. But can you spot the current catch as Reuters continues?

Should U.S. growth deteriorate, international trade conflicts escalate or the end of the decade-long bull run crystallise, the resulting volatility spike can send “safe” currencies such as the yen, euro and Swiss franc shooting higher, while inflicting losses on riskier emerging markets.

Comment

There is quite an economic shock being applied to the Euro area right now and it is currently being headlined by Italy. In terms of a response the Euro area has been quiet so far in terms of action although ECB President Christine Lagarde has undertaken some open-mouth operations.

Lagarde, speaking on a conference call late on Tuesday, warned that without concerted action, Europe risks seeing “a scenario that will remind many of us of the 2008 Great Financial Crisis,” according to a person familiar with her comments. With the right response, the shock will likely prove temporary, she added. ( Bloomberg).

 

I have no idea how she thinks monetary action will help much with a virus pandemic but of course in places she goes ( Greece, Argentina) things often get worse and indeed much worse. She has also rather contradicted herself referring to the great financial crisis because she chose not to coordinate her moves with the US Federal Reserve as happened back then. Also all her hot air contrasts rather with her new status as a committed climate change warrior.

A real problem is the limited room for manoeuvre she has which was deliberate. In my opinion she was given the job and was supposed to have a long honeymoon period because her predecessor Mario Draghi had set policy for the early part of her term. But as so often in life  we are reminded of the Harold MacMillan statement “events, dear boy, events” and now Christine Lagarde has quite a few important decisions to make. Even worse she has limited room. It used to be the case that the two-year yield of Germany was a guide but -1% seems unlikely and instead we may get a frankly ridiculous 0.1% reduction to -0.6% in the Deposit Rate.

The ECB may follow the Bank of England path and go for some credit easing to rev up the housing market, so expect plenty of rhetoric that it will boost smaller businesses. We may see the credit easing TLTRO with a lower interest-rate than the headline to boost the banks ( presented as good for business borrowers).

However the main moves now especially in the Euro area are fiscal even more than elsewhere as the monetary ones have been heavily used. So the ECB could increase its QE purchases to oil that wheel. Eyes may switch to European Commission President Von der Leyen’s statement yesterday.

These will concern in particular how to apply flexibility in the context of the Stability and Growth Pact and on the provision of State Aid.

I expect some action here although it is awkward as again President Von der Leyen had a pretty disastrous term as German Defence Minister. Although not for her, I mean for the German armed forces. So buckle up and let’s cross our fingers.

Also do not forget there may be a knock on effect for interest-rates in Denmark and Switzerland in particular as well as Sweden.

The Investing Channel

The ECB could be the next central bank to start buying equities

It feels like quite a week already and yet it is only Monday morning! As rumours circulated and fears grew after some pretty shocking data out of China on Sunday the Bank of Japan was limbering up for some open mouth action. Below is the statement from Governor Kuroda.

Global financial and capital markets have been unstable recently with growing uncertainties about the outlook for economic activity due to the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The Bank of Japan will closely monitor future developments, and will strive to provide ample liquidity and ensure stability in financial markets through appropriate market operations and asset purchases.

Actually most people were becoming much clearer about the economic impact of the Corona Virus which I will come to in a moment. You see in the language of central bankers “uncertainties” means exactly the reverse of the common usage and means they now fear a sharp downturn too. This will be a particular issue for Japan which saw its economy shrink by 1.6% in the final quarter of last year.

But there was a chaser to this cocktail which is the clear hint of what in foreign exchange markets the Bank of Japan calls “bold action” or intervention. This not only added to this from Chair Powell of the US Federal Reserve on Friday but came with more.

The fundamentals of the U.S. economy remain strong. However, the coronavirus poses evolving risks to economic activity. The Federal Reserve is closely monitoring developments and their implications for the economic outlook. We will use our tools and act as appropriate to support the economy.

As an aside if the fundamentals of the US economy were strong the statement would not be required would it?

The Kuroda Put Option

The problem for the Bank of Japan is that it was providing so much liquidity anyway as Reuters summarises.

Under a policy dubbed yield curve control, the BOJ guides short-term rates at -0.1% and pledges to cap long-term borrowing costs around zero. It also buys government bonds and risky assets, such as ETFs, as part of its massive stimulus program.

The Reuters journalist is a bit shy at the end because the Bank of Japan has been buying equity ETFs for some time as well as smaller commercial property purchases. I have been watching and all last week apart from the public holiday on Monday they bought 70.4 billion Yen each day.

Regular readers will be aware that the Bank of Japan buys on down days in the equity market and that the clip size is as above. Or if you prefer Japan actually has an explicit Plunge Protection Team or PPT and it was active last week. This morning though Governor Kuroda went beyond open mouth operations.

BoJ Bought Japan Stock ETFs On Monday – RTRS Market Sources BoJ Normally Does Not Buy ETFs On Day TOPIX Index Is Up In Morning ( @LiveSquawk )

As you can see they have changed tactics from buying on falls to singing along with Endor.

Don’t you know pump it up
You’ve got to pump it up
Don’t you know pump it up
You’ve got to pump it up

Also there was this.

BANK OF JAPAN BOUGHT RECORD TOTAL 101.4B YEN OF ETFS TODAY ( @russian_market )

Actually about a billion was commercial property but the principle is that the Bank of Japan has increased its operations considerably as well as buying on an up day. So the Nikkei 225 index ended up 201 points at 21,344 as The Tokyo Whale felt hungry.

Coordinated action

The Bank of England has also been indulging in some open mouth operations today.

“The Bank continues to monitor developments and is assessing its potential impacts on the global and UK economies and financial systems.

The Bank is working closely with HM Treasury and the FCA – as well as our international partners – to ensure all necessary steps are taken to protect financial and monetary stability.” ( The Guardian)

The rumours are that interest-rate cuts will vary from 1% from the Federal Reserve to 0.5% at places like the Bank of England to 0.1% at the ECB and Swiss National Bank. The latter are more constrained because they already have negative interest-rates and frankly cutting by 0.1% just seems silly ( which I guess means that they might….)

There have already been market responses to this. For example the US ten-year Treasury Bond yield has fallen below 1.1%. The ten-year at 0.75% is a full percent below the upper end of the official US interest-rate. So the hints of interest-rate cuts are in full flow as we see Treasuries go to places we were assured by some they could not go. Oh and you can have some full number-crunching as you get your head around reports that expectations of an interest-rate cut in Australia are now over 100%

The Real Economy

China

If we switch now to hat got this central banking party started it was this. From the South China Morning Post on Saturday.

Chinese manufacturing activity plunged to an all-time low in February, with the first official data published amid the coronavirus outbreak confirming fears over the impact on the Chinese economy.

The official manufacturing purchasing managers’ index (PMI) slowed to 35.7, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said on Saturday, having slipped to 50.0 in January when the full impact of the corona virus was not yet evident.

The only brief flicker of humour came from this.

Analysts polled by Bloomberg had expected the February reading to come in at 45.0.

Although you might think that manufacturing would be affected the most there was worse to come.

China’s non-manufacturing PMI – a gauge of sentiment in the services and construction sectors – also dropped, to 29.6 from 54.1 in January. This was also the lowest on record, below the previous low of 49.7 in November 2011, according to the NBS. Analysts polled by Bloomberg had expected the February reading to come in at 50.5.

To give you an idea of scale Greece saw its PMI ( it only has a manufacturing one) fell into the mid-30s as its economic depression began. So we are now facing not only a decline in economic growth in China but actual falls. This is reinforced by stories that factories are being asked to keep machines running even if there are no workers to properly operate them to conceal the size of the slow down.

Comment

The problem for central banks is that they are already so heavily deployed on what is called extraordinary monetary policy measures. Thus their ammunition locker is depleted and in truth what they have does not work well with a supply shock anyway as I explain in the podcast below. So we can expect them to act anyway but look for new tools and the next one is already being deployed by two central banks. I have covered the Bank of Japan so step forwards the Swiss National Bank.

Total sight deposits at the SNB rose by CHF3.51bn last week… ( @nghrbi)

Adding that to last weeks foreign exchange intervention suggests it has another 1 billion Swiss Francs to invest in (mostly US) equities.

Who might be next? Well the Euro is being strong in this phase partly I think because of the fact it has less scope for interest-rate cuts and partly because of its trade surplus. Could it copy the Swiss and intervene to weaken the Euro and investing some of the Euros into equities? It would be a “soft” way of joining the party. Once the principle is established then it can expand its activities following the model it has established with other policies.

As for other central banks they will be waiting for interest-rates to hit 0% I think. After all then the money created to buy the shares will be “free money” and what can go wrong?

Podcast