The global reaction to the first round of the French presidential election was not confusing. Capital was sitting on the sidelines as the polls reflected a possibility of a second round Le Pen/Melenchon faceoff, which would have been devastating for global investors because fear of an EU break-up would have led to a massive repricing of risk premia. The avoidance of such an outcome led to a rush of capital into European markets, which provided support to Asia and the U.S. The German/French 10-year spread reacted as expected. The yield differential narrowed by a significant 20 basis points. The BUND yields rose against all European sovereign debt as Berlin’s haven status was rendered null and void for at least another two weeks. The GOLD and YEN also performed as expected as money rushed to purchase a risk on profile in a global zero interest environment. The EURO rallied by 2% as global capital flows into European stocks forced previous short euro positions to the sidelines. There’s nothing confusing about any of these outcomes. But let me throw some confusion onto some of the other geopolitical events making the front pages:
First, I am reposting part of the January 29 post as a reminder to pay attention to the narrative of Trump rolling back to the concept of Pax Americana. As the Trump administration begins to reveal its ambitions, there is a great deal of conversation about Trump becoming more presidential and that the “grown ups” are taking charge of policy. The demotion of Stephen Bannon ignited a discussion about the Wall Street crowd (Mnuchin, Ross, Cohn, Kushner) becoming aligned with the “Deep State.” The concept of the deep state is really the power of the entrenched bureaucracy as the primary source within the beltway.
On Friday April 14 Treasury released a report that deemed no major trading a currency manipulator but five countries have met two of the three criteria and therefore will be closely monitored. This report is very well laid out but it is not incendiary as it seeks to persuade with a very soft touch. The three criteria of meeting of being a “manipulator” are:
1. A significant bilateral trade surplus with the U.S.of a least $20 billion;2. S current account surplus is at least 3% of a nations GDP; and3. Persistent, one-sided intervention occurs when net purchases of foreign currency are conducted repeatedly and total at least 2% of a nation’s GDP in a 12-month period.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, the tweeter-in-chief was reported to have said, “The DOLLAR IS GETTING TOO STRONG.” As some pundits discussed, instead of Trump calling China a currency manipulator it seems he wants to use the dollar as a cudgel to pressure others into not embarking on policies to weaken their currencies. As I wrote on April 2:
“The Trump Administration’s efforts to curb the U.S. trade deficit may see the executive branch try to depreciate the U.S. dollar if Secretary Mnuchin and Secretary Ross fail to persuade certain global actors to embark upon policies to adjust their current account and trade surpluses. The Fed’s recent tightening has not rallied the dollar–it actually closed lower on the quarter–so if the political status quo is sustained in Europe and no new political crisis emerges, the DOLLAR will become a barometer of Trump’s policies on trade.”
First things first, let’s talk about the gorilla in the room, former Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker leaked confidential information and the entire FED has had its reputation tarnished (stifle your laughter). The bigger question is how much is being covered up. Who else was involved in discussing matters of great sensitivity? As my readers know I have raised the issue of the G-30 and Davos being convocations for the exchange of very privileged information. Just google the G-30 and look to see its membership. The dissemination of potentially sensitive market-moving information to highly paid analysts raises serious questions of impropriety. In an effort to the level the playing field (and yes, I was most probably harmed by the leaks to Medley), the FED should not release its speeches or market information to any journalists covering the Federal Reserve.
First, let me apologize to my readers. I erred when I said Marine Le Pen made it to the second round of the 2012 French presidential election. Reader Al 13 corrected me. It was her father Jean-Marie Le Pen who made it to the second round in 2002 and got trounced, garnering 18% of the vote to Jacque Chirac’s 82%. But read Al 13’s comment on the previous post because he notes that if the second round were to be a choice between Le Pen and one of the two far-left candidates–Melenchon or Hamon–the impact would be highly volatile for European markets.
The biggest news in a very slow week of news is the beginning of the Brexit plan as Prime Minister May sent a six-page memo to Brussels as Article 50 begins and the two-year time period allotted for extrication from the EU starts the clock ticking in a very formal fashion. I SAY THIS TO ALL MY READERS: Two years is a very long time. There are many political and economic events (unforeseen by the static minds of entrenched power elites) that can dynamically change currently perceived outcomes. The fragility of global politics can wreak havoc with the certainties laid down by the likes of Jean Claude Juncker. The current position of the Brussels bureaucrats is the desire to punish Britain for the temerity of its citizens to vote to exit the “UTOPIAN” construct of the European Union.
The vote on the Trump health care plan is important only from the perspective of what the Freedom Caucus was promised in return for acquiescing to the desires of the White House. President Trump is desirous of a win, any win and the Freedom Caucus seems to know they have great leverage in the current political scrum. Whatever the House passes the Senate will have home field advantage and last bat so the initial Trump victory will Pyrrhic at best. What was compromised to assuage the conservative wing of the Republican party? How far will Trump have bent to bring this deal to fruition? The strident nature of the Freedom Caucus has been elevated and what value was extracted?
In an inane study of the world’s countries by the U.N. and released on World Happiness Day (what an absurd concept) the land locked nation with its active printing press was heralded as ranking FOURTH while the U.S. fell to 14th. To paraphrase Tolstoy: Happy countries are all alike; every unhappy country is unhappy in its own way. On March 17 Bloomberg ran a story, “Swiss National Bank (SNB) Foreign Reserves Soar, Signaling Interventions.” In February the SNB’s reserves increased by 3.8% to 668.2 billion francs, “the biggest increase since December 2014.”