What Could Prompt Higher Volatility?

Equities were buoyed last week in the wake of US President Biden’s infrastructure deal and renewed reflation trade optimism amid mixed post Federal Reserve FOMC messages from Fed officials. This resulted in US stocks recording their biggest weekly gain since February.  The prospects of passing the infrastructure deal has improved in the wake of Biden’s decision not to tie it to a much larger spending package that is being pushed through by Democrats but is not supported by Republicans. 

Given heightened sensitivity over inflation, the slightly weaker than expected US Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) data on Friday, which increased 0.5% m/m in May, slightly below the 0.6% consensus, added further support to the reflation trade, helping the US Treasury curve to steepen.  Moreover, the University of Michigan 5-10y inflation expectations series came in lower in June compared to the previous month. Fed officials likely put much more emphasis on this long-term series and will view the 2.8% reading as consistent with their “largely transitory” take on the pickup in inflation.

Cross-asset volatility has continued to decline, which bodes well for carry trades and risk assets.  For example, the VIX “fear gauge” index has dropped to pre-COVID level, something that has been echoed in other market volatility measures.  However, it’s hard to ignore the shift in tone from many central banks globally to a more hawkish one while risk asset momentum will likely wane as the strength of recovery slows, suggesting that low volatility may not persist.  It is notable that changes in global excess liquidity and China’s credit impulse have both weakened, implying a downdraft for risk assets and commodity prices and higher volatility. 

If there is anything that could prompt any increase in volatility this week, its the US June jobs report on Friday.  June likely saw another strong (consensus 700k) increase in nonfarm payrolls while the unemployment rate likely dropped to 5.7% from 5.8% previously.  Despite the likely strong gain in hiring, payrolls would still be close to 7 million lower compared to pre-COVID levels, suggesting a long way to go before the US jobs market normalises. The June US Institute for Supply Management (ISM) manufacturing index will also come under scrutiny though little change is expected from the May reading, with a 61.0 outcome likely from 61.2 in May. 

Other data and events of importance this week include the 100th year anniversary of China’s Communist Party (Thu), the release of purchasing managers indices (PMI) data globally including China’s official NBS PMI (Wed) for which a slight moderation is expected.  Eurozone June CPI inflation (Wed) which is likely to edge lower, Sweden’s Riksbank policy decision (Thu) where an unchanged outcome is likely and Bank of England (BoE) Governor Bailey’s Mansion House Speech (Thu), will be among the other key events in focus this week. 

Federal Reserve Speakers In Focus

After a major flattening of the US Treasury curve last week in the wake of the Federal Reserve Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting, this week will be important to determine how comfortable the Fed is with the market reaction to its shift in stance, with a number of speakers on tap including Fed Chairman Powell who testifies to Congress today.

In summary, the Fed FOMC was much less dovish than expected and acknowledged that they are formally thinking about thinking about tapering. The most obvious shift was in the Fed FOMC dot plot, with the median Fed official now expecting 50bp of tightening by the end of 2023.  

Notably, St. Louis Fed President Bullard was even more hawkish on Friday, highlighting the prospects of a “late 2022” hike in US policy rates.  Moreover, Fed speakers overnight did not walk back from the FOMC statement, with Presidents Bullard, Kaplan and Williams delivering views.  Kaplan favours tapering “sooner rather than later”, while Bullard highlighted upside risks to inflation. 

Nonetheless despite hawkish comments, markets have calmed somewhat following the sharp post FOMC reaction last week, which reeked of a major positioning squeeze.  Longer end US Treasury yields move higher overnight while equities recouped losses and the USD weakened. Today most attention will fall on Fed Chairman Powell’s testimony before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis on “The Federal Reserve’s Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic.” 

This week there are also several central bank decisions on hand.  Yesterday, China’s central bank PBoC, left policy on hold for a 14th straight month. China is in no rush to raise its policy rate and will likely focus on liquidity adjustments to fine tune policy. Other central bank policy decisions this week will come from Hungary (today), Thailand (Wed), Czech Republic (Wed), Philippines, UK, and Mexico (all on Thu).  

The NBH in Hungary is expected to hike policy rates, with both the 1 week depo rate and base rate likely to be hiked by 30bps. The Czech National bank is also expected to hike, with a 25bp increase in policy rates expected by consensus.  All the rest are forecast to leave policy on hold.  The key data releases this week will be the US May PCE report on Friday, which will likely reveal another sharp rise in prices.  

Although the USD weakened overnight it still looks positive technically, with the dollar index (DXY) remaining above its 200-day moving and MACD differential remaining positive. The Asian dollar index (ADXY) marks an interesting level for Asian FX as its is verging on a break below its 200-day moving average around 108.2861.  As such, the USD bounce may have a little more to run in the short term.

The euro (EUR) will be in focus to see if it breaks below 1.19, with the currency looking vulnerable on a technical basis to further downside. Similarly, the Australian dollar (AUD) is trading just below its 200 day moving average any may struggle to appreciate in the short term.

Plethora Of Central Banks

This week is a busy one for central bank meetings and data releases.  There are key policy meetings in the US (Wed), followed by Indonesia, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey, Brazil (all on Thu) and Japan (Fri).  None are expected to change policy settings except the BCB in Brazil, with the consensus expecting a 75bp hike there.

There will however, be lot of attention on the language of the statements for any hawkish tinges.  The US Federal Reserve FOMC for instance is likely to continue to highlight that inflation pressures are transitory but could state they have started to discuss some form of progress-dependent tapering plan even as the Fed remains far from actual tapering. 

While markets may be buying the “transitory” inflation story, consumer expectations remain elevated.  The New York Fed survey showed that consumer inflation expectations 3 years out rose to an 8 year high of 3.6% in May while 1-year expectations rose to a record 4%.  However, markets may find some solace from the drop in lumber prices, which have dropped by around 40% since early May though the CRB commodities index remains near multi-year highs.   

Norway’s Norges Bank may start preparing markets for a third quarter rate hike.  In contrast, in Turkey, attention will be on any clues to when the central bank will ease policy amid calls for a cut from President Erdogan. The Bank of Japan is likely to extend COVID aid for businesses while Bank Indonesia is likely to focus on transmission of past easing rather than cut again. 

Key data this week includes US May retail sales (today) for which a monthly decline in headline sales is likely though spending is still likely to have grown strongly over the quarter.  China’s May data dump (Wed) will also garner attention, with healthy gains in both retail sales and industrial production likely, even taking account of base effects. 

Australia’s May jobs report (Thu) is forecast to show an increase though there are downside risks emanating from JobkKeeper’s expiry in May.  Reserve Bank of Australia June minutes (today) and speech by governor Lowe (Thu) will also be scrutinized for thinking on whether RBA will extend the YCC bond to the Nov 24s and quantitative easing commitment. 

There are also several other central bank speeches of importance this week including two speeches by Bank of England governor Bailey, and several European Central Bank speakers. 

Absorbing The Fed’s Message

Markets absorbed a high inflation reading in the form of US core Personal Consumption Expenditure (PCE) price index without flinching at the end of last week, further acknowledgement that the Fed’s “transitory” inflation message is belatedly sinking in to the market’s psyche.  Core PCE inflation exceeded expectations for April, surging 0.7% m/m after a 0.4% gain in March (consensus: 0.6%). On a y/y basis, core PCE inflation surged to 3.1%—its highest level in almost three decades. High inflation readings are likely to persist over the near-term, if for no other reason than base effect, but price pressures will likely ease by the end of the year. 

The market’s sanguine reaction has helped US Treasury yields to continue to consolidate.  Also helping to restrain yields is the fact that positive US economic surprises (data releases versus consensus expectations) are close to their lowest level since June 2020 and barely positive (according to the Citi index), in contrast to euro area economic surprises, a factor that is helping to support the euro.

Cross-asset volatility measures remain very low, with the glut of liquidity continuing to depress volatility across equities, interest rates and FX.  Given that markets’ inflation fears has eased, it is difficult to see what will provoke any spike in volatility in the near term.  All of this this does not bode well for the USD.  Sentiment as reflected in the latest CFTC IMM speculative data on net non-commercial futures USD positions, remains downbeat.  This is corroborated in FX options risk reversal skews (3m, 25d) of USD crosses. 

In particular, USDCNY will be closely watched after strong gains in the renminbi lately.  Chinese officials are trying to prevent or at least slow USD weakness vs. CNY. The latest measure came from China’s central bank, the PBoC instructing banks to increase their FX reserve requirements by 2% to 7% ie to hold more foreign currency as a means of reducing demand for the Chinese currency.  Expect official resistance to yuan appreciation pressures to grow.      

Data so far this week has been mixed. China’s May NBS manufacturing purchasing managers index released yesterday slipped marginally to 51.0 from 51.1 previously (consensus 51.1) while the non-manufacturing PMI increased to 55.2 from 54.9 previously. Both remained in expansion, however indicative of continued economic expansion. China’s exports are holding up particularly well and this is expected to continue to fuel manufacturing expansion while manufacturing imports are similarly strong. 

Today’s Reserve Bank of Australia decision on monetary policy delivered no surprises, with policy unchanged and attention shifting to the July meeting when the bond purchase program will be reviewed.  On Friday it’s the turn of the the Indian central bank, Reserve Bank of India (RBI), with an unchanged policy outcome likely despite the growth risks emanating from a 2nd wave COVID infections cross the country and attendant lockdowns.  Last but not least, is the May US jobs report for which consensus expectations are for 650,000 gain in non-farm payrolls and the unemployment rate falling to 5.9% from 6.1% previously.

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