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  • FX Traders Have To (Re)Learn A New Skill

    Dear FX traders: forget the dot plot, and prepare to learn a new - or to some forgotten - skill: how to read trade flows. 

    As Bloomberg's Vincent Cignarella points out, currency traders accustomed to analyzing the Fed’s dot plot and monthly U.S. jobs figures to predict the direction of the world's reserve currency are having to learn, or in some cases re-learn, a largely forgotten ability: how to scrutinize trade data. With protectionism, border tax, VAT and trade wars the buzzword of the day, suddenly international trade is all that seems to matter, and yet "It’s been decades since investors gave significant thought to the data amid easing trade tensions."

    What’s more, traders will have to learn to think small again - the flows represent a drop in the bucket for a currency market where about $5 trillion exchanges hands every day. In a world of $4 trillion central bank balance sheets, a syplus measured in billions may seem like an anachronism, but it suddenly matters a lot.

    With the dollar near a 14-year high and Donald Trump accusing countries including China and Japan of keeping their currencies weak to gain trade advantages, Cignarella writes, the risk is any widening in the U.S. trade deficit may prompt a reaction from the president and spur a dollar selloff. Indicatively, on Friday, Trump was quiet after China’s monthly trade surplus with the U.S. slipped to a seven-month low of $21.4 billion.

    Then again, when it comes to the second biggest economy in the world, China, all economic data should be taken with a grain of salt, whether due to outright fabrication or calendar effects, as Goldman explained today:

    The early Chinese New Year appears to have distorted January trade data (especially exports) on the upside... Exports tend to be stronger than usual when the Chinese New Year is in late January or early February, likely reflecting frontloading activities by exporters ahead of the long holiday. While the official holiday is a week long, export activities do not resume to normal level until the Lantern festival on the 15th of the Lunar January (11 February in 2017). As this effect will be reversed in February, the year on year growth rate is likely to show a significant decline. We expect export activities to face downward pressure in the coming months.

    The above example merely underscores the difficulty traders will have in trying to keep track of one of the most important trade flows in the world. And that does not even touch on over-invoicing.

    In any case, "the fact that the president is planning to do so much on the trade front which could potentially alter the global trading landscape permanently, forces market participants to focus on whatever trade data they can find," said Brad Bechtel, a currency strategist at Jefferies. "Although often a bit dated, trade data will have far more relevance going forward."

    Another example: Trump’s summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday drew the attention of dollar-yen traders like no such meeting since trade tensions preoccupied the nations’ leaders in the 1980s and 1990s.

    So what data should currency traders follow?

    Cignarella's advice is that apart from the the U.S. Census Bureau’s monthly release (due March 7), investors should pay attention to the statistics from these seven nations: China, Japan (due Feb. 20), South Korea (due March 1), Germany (March 10),Taiwan (due March 7), and Switzerland (due Feb. 21). All were placed on the Treasury Department’s monitoring list last year when it evaluated the foreign-exchange policies of trading partners. Treasury cited instances of unusually large bilateral trade surpluses in the first four countries, and singled out Taiwan and Switzerland for engaging in interventions that only serve to weaken their currencies.

    Chinese policy makers are already surveying domestic companies to evaluate the potential impact should the U.S. label the nation a currency manipulator and impose punitive tariffs, according to people familiar with the issue.

    And for those uninspired by the mundane official releases and frustrated by their backward-looking nature, Deutsche Bank's Sebastien Galy, has a different recommendation: freight-rail traffic.

    Incidentally, that’s the indicator Warren Buffett said he’d monitor if he was stuck on a desert island for a month and only had access to one statistic. The Association of American Railroads has weekly data for the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, the kind of high-frequency information that a currency trader could really sink their teeth into.

  • Weekend Reading: Fed Up

    Submitted by Lance Roberts via,

    As discussed yesterday, the markets have been quiet. Too quiet. That makes me worry as generally when volatility resurfaces it has not been kind to investors in the short-term.

    But despite the lack of volatility in the market, the S&P eclipsed 2300 yesterday breaking through the psychological barrier on its continued quest towards 2400.

    While the market continues to trade on the back of Trump announcements of potential tax reform and support for airlines, the economic backdrop continues to show signs of age.

    The important point to note here is the historical deviation between exuberance and economic realities has generally NOT been resolved by reality catching up with fantasy. It has always been the other way around.

    This brings me to my interview with Danielle DiMartino-Booth this past week. She and I dig into the economy, the Fed’s missteps, and the realities that currently prevail in the market and the economy. I am sure you will enjoy the interview.


    (Note: If you order a copy of Fed Up and bring it to the 2017 Economic & Investment Summit on April 1st in Houston, Texas you can have Danielle personally autograph for you. Also presenting Greg Morris, Michael Lebowitz, and Dave Collum.)

    In the meantime, here is what I am reading this weekend as I put my “S&P 2300” hat on…for now.



    Favorite / Interesting Reads

    “The only thing standing between you and your goal is the Bulls*** story you keep telling yourself as to why you can’t achieve it.” -The Wolf Of Wall Street

  • Dead Market Ramping - Stocks Hit Record Highs As Activity Hits Record Low

    Herd mentality..." yes, we are all individuals... he's not the messiah, he's a very naughty boy"


    Dead Market Walking

    Lowest 90-day realized vol for the S&P 500 in 10 years...

    85 days in a row without a 1% drop... 44 days without a 1% close to close gain or loss... 39 days in a row without a 1% intraday swing...


    But The Biggest Short Squeeze since the election...


    Has sent stocks to record highs... Trannies were best on the week, but the massve squeeze lifted everything...


    On an ever-decreasing bed of lower volumes...


    VIX was crushed back to a 10 handle leading the Dow to just shy of 20,300...

    Energy stocks ended the week red but today's kneejerk higher on Tarullo's resignation headlines kept the banks in the green...


    Bonds traded in a very narrow range today and ended the week lower in yield across the curve... (30Y ended the week back above 3.00%)


    The yield curve flattened notably... (the week saw the biggest weekly flattening in 2 months)


    Which explains why banks shot higher today... oh wait...


    The USD Index has its first positive week of the year (best week in 2 months)


    EUR was the weakest of the majors on the week and Cable strongest...


    Meanwhile oil prices ramped into the green for the week (as EIA OPEC data trumped dismal production and inventory data)...


    And Oil Vol collapsed to 3 year lows...


    On the week oil ended unchanged. Notably Copper and silver surged today as the USD dropped around the US open (performance post-payrolls)


    For 2017, The Dow just edge out the long bond but Gold remains the big winner... (6th winning week of the last 7)

  • Annotated History Of The Democratic Party

    Presented with no comment...



  • RBC Warns "It's The Melt-Up That Hurts"

    After an outstanding start to the year for Equity hedge funds, this most recent gap move higher in stocks (while rates and FX remain firmly ‘in range’) is pretty-much exactly what RBC's Charlie McElligott warned is a "bad scenario" for equities funds.

    Risk-assets to fresh highs alongside a “reflation impulse” re-rack (S&P eminis through their 1 year trendline resistance as we speak, while the early scan (revisions / updates coming later of course) of new positioning data shows a remarkable jump in TY (UST 10Y fut) open interest +70k (!) as shorts re-engage SIZE, h/t RBC Futures). 


    • First-and-foremost, the Trump drive-by statement on a “phenomenal” tax plan to purportedly be released in the next “two or three weeks” satiates the market’s primary desire for clarity and positive-messaging on the tax cuts and how they are going to be funded to keep them ‘rev neutral’ (BAT?  VAT?  Cash flow taxation?  No interest deduction?  A replacement of “amortization of cap goods” by instead a deduction of “capital purchases”?  Have House and Senate somehow shockingly ‘aligned’ after being so ‘apart’ on this topic?)  As a reminder, the tax cuts are by far-and-wide the largest driver of the S&P target upgrades that daisy-chained Street-wide in December.
    • More market rewarding “Good (focused) Trump,” as the President has agreed to honor the “One China” policy in a phone call to with China’s Xi, and squelching fears of “that” left-tail.  And in general, a President Trump that is refocused on “momentum” after the messy immigration battle: TRADE (Xi patch-up and Abe today / tomorrow), DEREGULATION / INFRASTRUCTURE (comments with airlines execs yday) and obvi TAXES.
    • Chinese trade data showing better-than-expected imports and exports (although almost certainly distorted due to the long Lunar New Year).
    • Release of IEA data showing very strong OPEC output-cut compliance (92% of targets, led by Saudi at 116% of cut rate), with now more Ministers calling for an extension (“if it feels good, do it”).  As I say almost-daily now, the QI Factor PCA Model shows inflation expectations (crude primary driver), credit spreads (crude first deriv driver), energy prices (duh…) and risk-aversion (negative correlation btwn crude and VIX at nearly 3-year highs) as the largest macro factor price drivers of the S&P.  This is why I continue highlighting crude as the most-likely culprit behind both left- and right- ‘tail events’ for global equities right now.  In the meantime, WTI is +1.8% and thus breakevens stop their slump to reverse higher for the first time in days.
    • Abe / Trump speculation of further coordination on growth-measures (currency manipulation NOT going to be a topic, but US infra investments WILL #HomnaAccord conspiracy theorists unite) keeping everybody’s favorite old-school risk-proxy $/Y well-bid back through 113.5.

    RE-REFLATING: Just as it was on life-support (HIGH HIGH HIGH expectations for this “tax announcement”-caveat emptor), “reflation” takes one more swing. 


    EQUITIES THEMATIC MONITOR EXPRESSING THE ‘FINAL PUSH’ OF ‘REFLATION’ (nicely tracking the view that Mark Orsley and I have been pushing while marketing regarding the ‘final’ equities melt-up over next quarter or two before back half of year interest rate volatility implications sees stocks end off their best levels)-

    THE MELT-UP THAT HURTS?: After an outstanding start to the year for Equity HF’s, this gap move higher in stocks (while rates and FX remain firmly ‘in range’) is pretty-much exactly what I was referencing in Tuesday’s note as the “bad scenario” for equities funds:

    One challenge going-forward though is the potential of a market breakout higher, where anecdotally I still don’t see a ton of risk-appetite per recent meetings / marketing and PB data on nets / gross. 


    “Rich valuations” with “Trump uncertainty” / “implementation delays of pro-growth policy” language is the baseline response from clients in US (and the dreaded ‘geopolitical / election risks’ in EU), which speaks to a ‘pain trade’ melt-up scenario being highly-likely as positioning data still shows that many are begrudgingly along for ride with only one foot in the water.

    This also touches on the point I made in the same note about buyside ‘long vol’ trades “bleeding” them of performance as we now see SPX realized vols from 15d, 30d and 90d all below the 8 level, which is a real kick in the pants.  And yes, this comes with short books being squeezed over the past three days the most since the start of December / peak post-election “reflation euphoria.”

    VOL BLEED = MAJOR SYSTEMATIC LENGTH IN EQUITIES AND CRUDE: Just a note that we have to assume very significant length in the market from vol-based allocation models (risk-parity, CTA, target vol) in both crude (3m implied vol at 1.5 yr lows) and stocks (SPX 3m 100% moneyness just off January’s 2.5 year lows).  This would of course speak to the potential for “positioning imbalances” that would be ripe for mechanical (unemotional) deleveraging on a sustained move higher…but for now, selling short front-month vol continues to be a profitable-trade.

    USD AGAIN IN-FOCUS: As pointed-out in Tuesday’s “Big Picture,” the USD is again ‘getting its legs’ (DXY about to test 111 for first time since January) as the poster-child proxy for the ‘reflation trade’--which until yesterday morning was at death’s doorstep.  Even before President Trump’s utterings on ‘tax policy progress’ yesterday, the Dollar had been showing signs of life for the better part of a week and a half—and is actually now set to see its first weekly gain of the year.  It is pretty clear that the move higher in the Dollar—although with plenty of qualitative drivers (positioning excess washout, Fed speakers attempting to keep March / 3 hike in ’17 “alive,” dovish Draghi / ECB and the aforementioned renewed confidence in a “Dollar bullish” US tax package pending) has been driven by two inputs:  1) the turn higher again this week in US “real yields” (as breakevens finally cracked-lower while nominal yields did more of their chopping) and 2) wider US / EU rates differentials (+11bps since last Thursday).

    TAXES—OBVIOUSLY WHAT THE MARKET IS FOCUSED UPON: When on Tuesday I was showing the extent of the “reflation unwind” (rates, thematic equities and FX reversing the mega-trend), I made this specific caveat on what it would take for the USD to regain its status as ‘chief indicator’ of reflation: “This could again change where ‘higher Dollar / domestic reflation’ again “synch” if we were to receive ‘Trump policy clarity’ (taxes) or more robust ‘hard’ economic data that would in turn keep the ‘growth over financial tightening / inflation’ hope alive.”  Some “phenomenal” tax-plan (purported) progress later, and there you go.
    This “sudden progress” on tax policy is obviously confounding (but exciting!) the market, as over the past 2 weeks we’ve seen the opposite--a firming of the Senate opponents vocally against the House- and Paul Ryan- supported B.A.T. (as the primary means of funding the tax cuts in addition to the deduction).  Thus, I do think there is scope for IN THIS NEAR-TERM 2-3 WEEK WINDOW for some disappointment with whatever is announced—perhaps a re-branding of this as a VAT, as a “fee,” as a “made in America” mechanism…or some other case of semantics.  As Mark Orsley has stated, dropping the “PAYGO” requirements as a workaround is very low odds…but it in theory would be possible to make this work.  But if it is TOO watered-down with sector / business-specific exemptions, it likely won’t pass WTO muster, NOR will it raise the required revenue to offset the tax cuts….ERGO it’s possible we’d see a dreaded “smaller than advertised” tax cut.  GASP.
    That said, there is also a reason I went on the record in Monday’ “RBC Big Picture” that the market is vastly underpricing B.A.T. going-through as part of the House’s tax policy plan, and estimated its inclusion as a 70 delta (instead of say GS’ “20 delta” note last week): Republicans are feeling the heat of their constituency with regards to the two big changes they were promised by the Trump Administration out of the gates: an ACA replacement / amendment and Taxes…and as such, they need to ‘come to terms’ with a resolution ahead of the Summer, as reconciliation is typically a 4 to 5 month process (making these potentially end of ’17 / start of ’18 stories).  Simply put, that timeline is not gonna cut it…so you have to take action and sweeten the deal to get the Republicans on the same page—thus you find the additional ‘add-ons’ and close other loopholes to get the hold-outs something that eases their concerns.

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