Greenback Softens Ahead of FOMC

The US dollar is paring yesterday’s gains as the market awaits the
outcome of the well-telegraphed FOMC meeting.
  In recent weeks, the
combination of data and official comments have swayed market, which had
previously anticipated a hike in May or June.   

A hike today is as nearly a foregone conclusion as these things can
get. 
The idea of not wanting to surprise the market, which some Fed
officials underscored, works both ways.  It means market expectations are primed.  It also means that when there
is a nearly 100% chance discounted, not to deliver would also be a
destabilizing surprise.  

Investors will quickly look past a 25 bp hike.  Indeed, the
market will be looking for clues on the
timing of the next one.  There are two elements here.  One is the dot
plot.  We expected the median and average to creep up, and suspect many
may be underestimating the hawkishness of the regional presidents.  The
other element is the assessment of the balance of risks.   Despite the
prospect of slower Q1 growth (which is also consistent with the pattern since
the financial crisis), the risks may be tilted higher going
forward.  

A Wall Street Journal survey found almost 70% of responding economist
expect the next hike in June and 8.5% say July.
  A fifth expected the
Fed to wait until September.  Based on the current information set, we are inclined toward June.  It is partly based on the understanding that gradual
hikes rule out back-to-back meeting moves
now.  Our view is also informed by
indications that the Fed’s leadership has grown more confident of the
resilience of the US economy and is no longer looking for confirmation. 
Instead, we think the Fed has shifted to
looking for opportunities to normalize policy.  Also, expectation assumes European politics will not be
significantly disruptive to the markets (which means no populist-nationalist
victories).  

Today’s Dutch election is the first test of this last point. 
Recent polls suggest the populist-nationalist PVV has waned in recent
weeks.  The Dutch themselves, and by and large, the investment community
has never been particularly worried about the outcome.  It is recognized that Wilders does express a current among
the Dutch electorate, but it is not growing.  The fragmented and
decentralized nature of Dutch politics puts a premium on coalition building
which serves to temper extreme views.  

Many investors have been more worried about next month’s French
presidential elections.
  In a turn of events, all three leading
candidates have legal problems. Le Pen and Fillon’s legal issues have been
around for weeks, while Macron’s problems came to light yesterday, involving a
contract awarded without an open bidding process when he was the Economic
Minister.  

Meanwhile, sterling has recovered from yesterday’s spike to almost 
$1.21. 
Royal assent for Brexit is
expected
tomorrow, and that will leave triggering Article 50 in Prime
Minister May’s hands.   What kind of UK will leave?  This was a factor that weighed on sterling
yesterday.  Scotland wants another
crack at independence, and Northern
Ireland voted to remain, and the
unification of Ireland has been broached
with Sinn Fein seeking a referendum as soon as practical.  Leaving aside
the polls conducted by Scottish companies, the others, like YouGov/Times shows
that outcome of a referendum has not changed much.  Spain has made it clear; it would not allow Scotland to join the
EU.  It wants to give its own independent-minded regions no incentives. 
Hence, Sturgeon’s interest in the EFTA instead.

May has signaled that she will not attend the EU summit to celebrate the
60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome on March 25.
  Instead, within a
day or two of it (March 27?) she is expected to
formally trigger Article 50
.  Once that takes place, the UK’s
initiative is lost and it passes to the
EU, including on when to begin the negotiations.  Some press reports
suggested formal talks might not begin until June.  

Sterling retreated today after the labor
report showed a steeper slowing of wage
growth than had been anticipated even though the claimant count fell (-11.3k in
February after a 41.4k decline in January) and the unemployment rate slipped to
4.7% (in three months through January), which is the lowest since 1975.
 
Average weekly earnings (three months,  year-over-year through January)
slowed to 2.2% from 2.6%.  The
Bloomberg median forecast was for 2.4% increase.  It is the weakest wage
growth since last April.  

The shadow MPC at the UK Times seems out of step.  Three favor a
hike tomorrow, and another three think
the next meeting.  A Reuters poll results don’t see a hike until
2019.  Look for a unanimous decision tomorrow from the BOE’s MPC to keep
rates steady.  The BOJ and SNB also meet tomorrow and are expected to keep
policy on steady.  

The suspension of the US debt ceiling in October 2015 expires today. 
It is already having an impact on the
T-bill market, where yields are elevated.  In the past, fiscal concessions
are sought in exchange for lifting the
cap.   It is not clear how this will play out this time.  There
are numerous measures the Treasury Department can and will take to avoid
disruptions.  This can extend for
several months.  Meanwhile, the spending authorization may be more
pressing as it reaches its limit next month. Also, as early as tomorrow
President Trump is expected to unveil the first outlook for the FY18
budget.  

Lastly, the other development worth highlighting here is the strong rally
in iron ore and steel.
  In China, iron ore prices rose 5.2% today
after 4.3% yesterday.  Steel reinforcement bar rose 1.3% to the highest in
nearly four years.  It has risen 27% this year already.  Recent
Chinese data showed that steel output rose 6% in the January-February period
year-over-year.  Oil prices are also recovering today after the April
light sweet futures contract approached $47 a barrel yesterday.  API
reported an unexpected drawn down.  The EIA data will be reported in the US morning.   

The North American session also features US CPI (core expected 2.2% from
2.3% in January. 
The US also reports retail sales.  The risk
seems to be on the downside after the 0.4% rise in February at the headline and
core (GDP components).  The Empire State manufacturing survey for March
(one of first March readings) may soften from 18.7 in February. 

Disclaimer

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