US bonds sell off, USD rallies

US Treasuries didn’t like it but the compromise agreement to extend Bush era tax cuts, as well as a 13-month unfunded extension of long term unemployment benefits and a $120 billion payroll tax holiday will provide the US economy with further support and likely to lead to some upgrading of US growth forecasts. The agreement changes the dynamic of fiscal support for the US economy and means that the US is the only major country not tightening fiscal policy. It also implies less heavy lifting needed from the Federal Reserve.

Whilst some US taxpayers will not now face tax increases following the end of the year, the longer term question of fiscal adjustment and reform appears to have been postponed. US bond yields jumped on the news as the agreement effectively adds $1 trillion to US debt over the next couple of years. The contrasting fiscal stance with Europe could eventually haunt US markets as focus eventually return to US fiscal issues, with negative implications for the country’s credit ratings. However, at present, attention remains firmly fixed on European sovereign risk rather than US deficit fears.

There has been some relief to European debt markets, albeit temporarily, with debt markets ignoring the news that European Finance Ministers have not agreed to extend the size of the support fund (EFSF) and have also failed to agree on the introduction of recently touted “E-bonds”. ECB buying of peripheral bonds has given some support whilst the passage of the first votes of the Irish budget has eased tensions in its bond markets. Nonetheless as highlighted by the IMF, Europe’s ”piecemeal” response to the debt crisis in the region is insufficient to stem the crisis, suggesting that the current easing in pressure could prove short-lived.

The jump in US bond yields has given the USD some support but I wouldn’t overplay the impact on the USD of bond yields at present. Correlations reflecting the sensitivity of bond yields to various currencies remain relatively low suggesting that the influence of yield on FX is still limited. That said, the correlation is likely to increase over coming months as US yields move higher. The impact on USD/JPY is likely to be particularly sharp, with the currency pair likely to move higher over coming months. The USD has likely rallied due to the likelihood that the tax cut extensions will mean prospects of less quantitative easing by the Fed and prospects of relatively firmer US growth.

An ongoing concern for markets is the prospects of higher interest rates in China. As regular readers of Econometer many note, my blog posts have been a bit sporadic lately. This is not down to laziness but the fact that I have been on the road quite a bit travelling in Asia (and UK) visiting clients. One of the clear concerns that I have heard often repeated is the potential for China’s measures to curb real estate speculation, rising inflation, and lending, to slow China’s growth sharply and cause problems for the rest of the world. This is the topic of another post for another day, but against the background of such concerns the AUD and other high beta currencies are likely to fail to make much headway.

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