Market Cross-Currents

There are many cross currents afflicting markets at present.  Equity valuations look high but US earnings have been strong so far, with close to 90% of S&P 500 earnings coming in above expectations. This has helped to buoy equity markets despite concerns over the spreading of the Delta COVID variant and its negative impact on recovery.  Yet the market doesn’t appear entirely convinced on the recovery trade, with small caps continuing to lag mega caps. 

The USD index (DXY) remained supported at the end of last week even as US yields remain capped, but the USD does appear to be losing momentum. Positioning has now turned long according to the CFTC IMM data indicating that the short covering rally is largely exhausted; aggregate net USD positioning vs. major currencies (EUR, JPY, GBP, AUD, NZD, CAD & CHF as a percent of open interest) turned positive for the first time in over a year. 

Inflation fears have not dissipated especially after recent above consensus consumer price index (CPI) readings, for example in the US and UK.  Reflecting such uncertainty, interest rate market volatility remains high as seen in the ICE BofA MOVE index while inflation gauges such as 5y5y swaps have pushed higher in July.  There was some better news on the inflationary front at the end of last week, with the Markit US July purchasing managers indices (PMIs) revealing an easing in both input and selling prices for a second straight month, albeit remaining at an elevated level. 

This week we will get more information on inflation trends, with the June Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) report in the US (Fri), Eurozone July CPI (Fri), Australia Q2 CPI (Wed) and Canada June CPI (Wed), on tap this week.  We will also get to see whether the Fed is more concerned about inflation risks at the Federal Open Markets Committee (FOMC) meeting (Wed).  The Fed is likely to continue to downplay the surge in inflation, arguing that it is transitory, while the standard of “substantial further progress” remains a “ways off”.   Nonetheless, it may not be long before the Fed is more explicit in announcing that is formally moving towards tapering. 

An emerging markets central bank policy decision in focus this week is the National Bank of Hungary (NBH) where a 15bp hike in the base rate is expected.  Central banks in emerging markets are taking differing stances, with for example Russia hiking interest rates by 100 basis points at the end of the week while China left its Loan Prime Rate unchanged.  The July German IFO business climate survey later today will be in focus too (consensus 102.5).  Overall, amid thinner summer trading conditions market activity is likely to be light this week.

Lots Of Buyers On Dips

Last week’s bout of risk-aversion proved short-lived though more volatility likes lies ahead. The reflation trade looked like it was falling apart last week as reflected in the sharp decline in US Treasury bond yields and the shift out of value into big tech/growth stocks.  The markets appeared to have increasingly absorbed the Fed’s message that inflation increases will be transitory while a reversal of crowded market positioning in reflation trades exacerbated the moves.  The malaise in markets coincided with several indicators revealing peak growth has passed and the rapid spread of the Delta variant globally.

However, clearly that didn’t appear to be the case by the end of last week as equities rallied strongly and the US Treasury curve shifted higher.  The US dollar gave up some of its gains while oil and gold rallied.  While there are still concerns about peak growth passing and the rapid spread of the Delta variant, there are obviously still plenty of buyers willing to jump in on dips. 

China’s central bank, PBoC went ahead with a much anticipated reserve requirement ratio cut sooner than expected on Friday though this targeted liquidity easing is unlikely to change the fact that growth is losing momentum amid a weakening credit impulse.  This week, key events include China’s June trade data (Tue) for which outsized gains in exports and imports is likely.  China’s monetary and credit aggregates will also be out sometime over the week as well as Q2 GDP and the June data dump, with some further moderation likely to be revealed. 

Top US data includes June CPI inflation (Tue) and retail sales (Fri).  CPI is likely to record another sizeable 4.9% y/y increase though the Fed’s repeated message of transitory inflation, will limit any market concerns over inflation pressures.  Also given the gyrations in markets last week, there will be even more focus on Federal Reserve Chair Powell’s semi-annual testimony to Congress (Wed & Thu).  The start of the Q2 earnings season will also come under scrutiny, with expectations of a 63% surge forecast according to FactSet data.   

Monetary policy rate decisions in New Zealand, Canada, Turkey (all on Wed), Korea (Thu) and Japan (Fri) are on tap, with the former two likely to reveal upbeat views while the CBRT in Turkey will have limited room to ease given the recent spike in inflation.  BoK in Korea may dial back a little of its hawkish rhetoric giving increasing virus cases in the country, while BoJ in Japan is likely to revise higher its inflation forecasts but leave its economic outlook unchanged.  Australian and UK jobs data (Thu) will also garner attention. 

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. 

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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