Pause In The Risk Rally?

The rally in risk assets has extended into 2020 amid a stabilization in economic data, the Phase 1 trade deal and a persistent easy monetary policy stance by major central banks.  The sharp decline in volatility in most asset markets has also contributed to the rush to buy such as assets including equities and high yielding debt.  While the market is becoming increasingly susceptible to shocks given the increasing positioning in risks assets, the near term may be a period of consolidation rather than any reversal.

Attention this week will focus on US Q4 2019 earnings.  So far, with around 9% of S&P earnings released, the majority (around 70%) have beaten expectations.  In a 4 day US trading week this week there are a number of earnings releases that will help provide further clues to whether the US equity rally can be sustained in the weeks ahead.  The S&P 500 is already up around 3% this year, extending a 30%+ gain last year. This has echoed gains in most global equity markets.  Investors should be nervous, but there is little to suggest a reversal soon.

There are a number of data and events to focus on this week including central bank meetings in the Eurozone, Canada, Norway, Malaysia and Indonesia.  Unsurprisingly the Bank of Japan left policy unchanged today and the other are unlikely to change their policy settings except perhaps Indonesia, which may cut.  Aside from these central banks a series of manufacturing surveys (Markit PMIs) will garner attention.

In Asia, trading activity may slow as Chinese New Year approaches while impeachment proceedings against US President Trump in the Senate will also likely distract attention for many.  Another issue that has taken on increasing prominence is the outbreak of a virus that appears to have originated in central China.  Concerns have grown that the coronavirus could spread quickly especially as millions of Chinese migrate (estimated at around 3 billion trips) over the Chinese new year holidays.

Overall, nervousness over the virus alongside holidays in the region is likely to lead to consolidation in markets any even profit taking following a strong rally in risk assets over recent weeks and months.  Positioning indicators suggest that USD positioning has fallen sharply, suggesting also a risk of USD short covering in the current environment.  This all point to a pause in the risk rally in the days ahead.

China Data Fuels A Good Start To The Week

Better than expected outcomes for China’s manufacturing purchasing managers indices (PMIs) in November, with the official PMI moving back above 50 into expansion territory and the Caixin PMI also surprising on the upside gave markets some fuel for a positive start to the week.   The data suggest that China’s manufacturing sector has found some respite, but the bounce may have been due to temporary factors, rather than a sustainable improvement in manufacturing conditions.  Indeed much going forward will depend on the outcome of US-China trade talks, initially on whether a phase 1 deal can be agreed upon any time soon.

News on the trade war front shows little sign of improvement at this stage, with reports that a US-China trade deal is now “stalled” due to the Hong Kong legislation passed by President Trump last week as well as reports that China wants a roll back in previous tariffs before any deal can be signed.  Nonetheless, while a ‘Phase 1’ trade deal by year end is increasingly moving out of the picture, markets appear to be sanguine about it, with risk assets shrugging off trade doubts for now.  Whether the good mood can continue will depend on a slate of data releases over the days ahead.

Following China’s PMIs, the US November ISM manufacturing survey will be released later today.  US manufacturing sentiment has come under growing pressure even as other sectors of the economy have shown resilience.  Another below 50 (contractionary) outcome is likely.  The other key release in the US this week is the November jobs report, for which the consensus is looking for a 188k increase in jobs, unemployment rate remaining at 3.6% and average earnings rising by 0.3% m/m. Such an outcome will be greeted positively by markets, likely extending the positive drum beat for equities and risk assets into next week.

There are also several central bank decisions worth highlighting this week including in Australia, Canada and India.  Both the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) and Bank of Canada (BoC) are likely to keep monetary policy unchanged, while the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is likely to cut its policy rate by 25bps to combat a worsening growth outlook.  Indeed, Q3 GDP data released last week revealed the sixth sequential weakening in India’s growth rate, with growth coming in at a relatively weak 4.5% y/y. Despite a recent food price induced spike in inflation the RBI is likely to focus on the weaker growth trajectory in cutting rates.

Are Recession Risks Rising?

It is incredible that just a few months ago most analysts were expecting at least two if not three interest rate hikes by the Federal Reserve.  How quickly things change.  Markets are pricing in at least a couple of rate cuts by the FOMC while US Treasury yields have fallen sharply as growth concerns have intensified, even as the hard economic has not yet turned that bad.  Recession risks are once again being actively talked about as trade fears intensify, with President Trump threatening increased tariffs on both Mexico and China.  As I noted earlier this week, trade tensions have escalated.

Reflecting this, core bond markets have rallied sharply, with 10 year US Treasury yields dropping by around 60bps so far this year, while bund yields are negative out to 10 years.  Historically such a plunge would be associated with a sharp weakening in growth expectations and onset of recession.  However, equity markets are holding up better; the US S&P 500 has dropped around 6.8% from its highs but is still up close to 10% for the year.  Even Chinese equities are up close to 20% this year despite falling close to 13% from their highs.  Equities could be the last shoe to fall.

In currency markets the US dollar has come under pressure recently but is still stronger versus most currencies this year except notably Japanese and Canadian dollar among major currencies and the likes of Russian rouble and Thai baht among emerging market currencies.  On the other end of the spectrum Turkish lira and Argentine peso have fallen most, but their weakness has largely been idiosyncratic.  In a weaker growth environment, and one in which global trade is hit hard, it would be particularly negative for trade orientated EM economies and currencies.

The US dollar has a natural advantage compared to most major currencies at present in that it has a relatively higher yield. Anyone wishing to sell or go short would need to pay away this yield.  However, if the market is increasingly pricing in rate cuts, the USD looks like a much less attractive proposition and this is what appears to be happening now as investors offload long USD positions build up over past months.  Further USD weakness is likely at least in the short term, but it always hard to write the USDs resilience off.

Going forward much will of course depend on tariffs.  If President Trump implements tariffs on an additional $300 billion of Chinese exports to the US as he has threatened this would hurt global growth as would tariffs on Mexico.  Neither is guaranteed and could still be averted.  Even if these tariffs are implemented fears of recession still appear to be overdone.  Growth will certainly slow in the months ahead as indicated by forward looking indicators such manufacturing purchasing managers’ indices, but there is little in terms of data yet to suggest that recession is on the cards.


USD firm versus EUR but not against JPY

Finally back in the office after two weeks of traveling and it appear that the upside momentum for equity markets has definitely waned. Concerns about the pace of growth, earnings and valuations finally appear to have caught up with stocks. Meanwhile US Treasury yields have remained under downward pressure since the release of the disappointing US December jobs report despite some encouraging data since. In Asia China’s GDP release for Q4 reveaked some loss of momentum, with growth decelerating to 1.8% QoQ. Nonetheless, the annual pace of growth looked reasonably healthy at 7.7%, suggesting a limited reaction in markets today.

A US holiday today will likely keep a cap on market activity today but there will be plenty of Q4 earnings reports over coming days to give further direction. In terms of policy decisions the Bank of Japan and Bank of Canada will likely keep policy unchanged following their policy decisions this week. The BoC is faced with inflation well below target while the BoJ continues to battle to push inflation towards its 2% target. Both central banks will maintain easy policy.

On the data front there is very little of note in the US to focus on, with the main release the December existing home sales report on Thursday where a rebound of 1% is expected. European data releases may prove to be more interesting, with the release of flash purchasing managers indices on tap. Further gradual gains are likely to be registered in January although there will be attention on France which has lagged other countries.

Ratings decisions by Moody’s and Fitch on Germany and France, respectively, will also garner some attention. Rumours of a German downgrade are likely to prove unfounded. In the UK the Bank of England MPC minutes will be is likely to reveal an unchanged outcome of voting to keep policy unchanged although the BoE is likely to adjust its guidance soon reflecting the quicker than anticipated fall in the unemployment rate.

The USD looks well placed to extend last week’s gains, especially against the EUR, with a drop below 1.3500 on the cards. Disinflation pressures and relatively soft growth highlight the potential for easier monetary policy. A variety of options for the ECB are on the cards but the EUR will struggle to make headway given expectations of more ECB action. Additionally the EUR appears to be benefiting less from reserves recycling flows, especially given that Asian central bank reserves accumulation has likely to have slowed. The deterioration in speculative positioning reflects the deterioration in sentiment for the currency.

In contrast USD/JPY will struggle too push higher given the drop in US Treasury yields. Additionally weaker Japanese stocks will not help given the correlation between the Nikkei and JPY. The Bank of Japan meeting this week will not give much support for a further move higher in USD/JPY given expectations of an unchanged outcome. Some consolidation around 104.00 is likely over the short term, with upside limited to technical resistance around 104.92.

I fly off to Mumbai tonight for the last leg of our Asia roadshow presentation series. Hopefully my next post can shed some light on the recent stability of the Indian rupee.

It’s all about communication

Calm has settled over markets as anticipation builds ahead of tomorrow’s Fed FOMC outcome. Equity markets registered broad based gains globally while US yields rose and the USD stabilized. It’s worth reiterating that effective Fed communication is the key to ensure that this calm continues otherwise market volatility will quite easily return.

Yesterday’s mixed data releases did not offer much to the debate on Fed policy as the Empire manufacturing survey rose more than expected but disappointed on the detail, while home builders’ confidence jumped. May CPI inflation data will perhaps offer more clues today, with a benign reading likely to ensure that markets do not get carried away in expecting any major shift in Fed policy. In Europe, a likely decline in the German ZEW investor confidence survey in June will do little to boost confidence in recovery.

GBP/USD has rallied impressively over recent weeks although much of its gain has been spurred largely by USD weakness rather than inherent GBP strength. Nonetheless, UK data has looked somewhat more encouraging, a fact that has played some role in reinforcing GBP gains. Whether this continues will depend on a slate of data releases this week including retail sales on Thursday. CPI inflation data (today) and Bank of England MPC minutes (tomorrow).

On balance, I look for UK data to continue to paint an encouraging picture of recovery, which ought to provide further support for GBP. However, the risk / reward does not favor shorting the USD at present and I suggest playing further GBP upside versus EUR.

CHF has strengthened as risk aversion has flared up. While I remain bearish CHF over the medium term the near term outlook will be driven by risk gyrations (given the strong correlation between CHF and our risk barometer). Both EUR/CHF and USD/CHF have already fallen sharply having priced in higher risk aversion.

Obviously much in terms of risk appetite will depend on the Fed FOMC outcome tomorrow and I would suggest caution about shorting the CHF just yet. Additionally Swiss data in the form of May trade data and more importantly the SNB policy decision this week will be watched closely, especially given the threat by SNB Jordan of implementing negative interest rates. I don’t expect any shift in policy on Thursday, however, leaving USD/CHF firmly supported around 0.9130.

Since Fed Chairman Bernanke highlighted the prospects of Fed “tapering” during his testimony on May 22 commodity currencies have performed poorly. The notable exception has been the CAD which has eked out gains over recent weeks. Like GBP, the CAD has been helped by relatively positive data releases, which in turn have prompted growing expectations of policy rates hikes from the Bank of Canada. Market positioning in CAD remains relatively short, suggesting more scope for gains over coming weeks. Meanwhile, data this week including May CPI and April retail sales will be scrutinized for clues as to the next move from the BoC and in turn whether gains in CAD are justified.

EUR rallies, AUD and CAD eye rate meetings

Some consolidation and even slightly more upbeat tone have helped risks assets to settle and the outlook today is for more of the same. The respite looks temporary unless followed by concrete measures out of the Eurozone to stem the crisis, however. Attention will focus on today’s emergency teleconference between G7 leaders in which they are expected to put more pressure on European leaders to act.

However, continuing stalemate in Europe, with Spain’s push for an injection of funds from the Eurozone bailout fund into its banks facing resistance from Germany who believe that any funding should come as part of a formal bailout package. Despite the lack of traction in Europe, the EUR has managed to eek out further gains, with the rebound from the lows around 1.2287 versus USD gaining traction. Near term resistance is seen around 1.2625.

There has been a change of heart by many ahead of today’s Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) meeting. Weaker global data in particular in China, with both the manufacturing and non manufacturing purchasing managers indices (PMI) coming in weaker than expected, have added to worries about the path of the Australian economy.

Taken together with some deterioration in Australian money market conditions, weaker commodity prices and growing European contagion risks, the RBA will probably want to shield the domestic economy, with another 25bps rate cut. Talk of a 50bps easing today has done the rounds but this seems excessive given that it would fall hot on the heels of 50bps rate cut at the beginning of May.

The AUD has priced in some easing and a likely 25bps rate cut is unlikely to put much pressure on the currency but much will depend on the accompanying statement. In any case, downside risks remain in the current environment.

The Bank of Canada also meets today to decide on its policy rate settings. Unlike in Australia there has been no change of heart ahead of the meeting, with the BoC set to keep its policy rate on hold at 1%. The central bank has sounded more upbeat than most and the drop in the CAD over recent weeks has in any case acted to loosen monetary conditions.

Although somewhat resilient compared to its commodity counterparts such as AUD and NZD, the CAD is playing catch up, having been the worst performing currency so far this month. Speculative positioning has drifted lower too, although it is still close its three month average. This implies room for a further reduction in long positions as the CAD fails to outperform.

Recent weakness in US economic data highlights the risks ahead for Canada and the CAD, suggesting that investors will continue to take a cautious tone towards the currency over coming weeks. A more neutral statement from the BoC will likely keep CAD sentiment subdued.

AUD risks, CHF speculation, CAD upside

News that the IMF revised up its global growth forecasts, decent demand for a Spanish bill auction and a stronger than expected reading in the April German ZEW investor confidence survey helped to calm market nerves overnight. Some solid US Q1 earnings also supported equities too.

Weaker readings for US industrial production and housing starts were largely ignored. Hopes of an expansion of IMF funds were boosted by the news that Japan will be provide an extra $60 billion. High beta currencies rallied overnight but notably the EUR failed to register gains despite a narrowing in peripheral Eurozone bond yields.

AUD has undergone some major gyrations. The boost from by a strong jobs report last week was quickly undone by a relatively dovish set of RBA minutes, which appeared to confirm the view that a rate cut would take place in May. Of course, as the RBA pointed out the April 24 Q1 inflation report would be essential to provide the final clues to the rate decision.

As a rate cut is already priced in, an upside inflation surprise may actually result in a bounce in the AUD but any positive impetus will have to contend with a more fragile risk environment, yesterday’s risk rally not withstanding. AUD is one of the most highly sensitive currencies to risk aversion and bounced overnight as risk appetite improved but we suspect the risk rally will fade in the short term putting the AUD under renewed downward pressure.

EUR/CHF continues to track the 1.20 ‘line in the sand’ closely, but rumours of a shift in the floor continue to do the rounds. Swiss officials have not confirmed such speculation but have highlighted the impact of a strong CHF in fuelling deflation pressures. The case for a move higher in the CHF ceiling is therefore quite high, but the cost could also be high if speculators test the resolve of the Swiss authorities.

Although the Swiss economy continues to suffer it appears that the pain of a strong CHF is lessening slightly although not enough to ease concerns about the strength of the currency. The March KoF Swiss leading indicator revealed a second straight increase, albeit from a low level. Further gains may be limited however, given the ongoing downward pressure emanating from weaker growth in the Eurozone.

The Bank of Canada left policy rates unchanged at 1% but the accompanying statement appeared to pave the way for higher interest rates. Consequently expectations of rate hikes have been brought forward, with the CAD rallying due to its strong correlation with interest rate differentials. Firmer commodity prices also helped to boost CAD.

Our quantitative models show scope for further CAD gains over the short term, suggesting more gains ahead. Further direction will come from the BoC Monetary Policy Report today, with USD/CAD setting its sights on a test of technical support around 0.9766 in the near term.

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