India Risks, Highlights For The Week Ahead

It was a strong end to last week for US markets, with S&P 500 up over 1%, helped by stronger than expected new home sales and April US Markit purchasing managers indices (PMI) data. As risk assets rallied the US dollar and US Treasuries sold off.  There are plenty of event risks this week. Also, there will be deluge of US earnings releases this week including most tech heavyweights while markets will likely remain nervous over President Biden’s tax plans.  Geopolitical risks will also remain on the forefront. 

Even as the progress on the vaccination front continues the renewed increases in virus cases in many countries, particularly in India, where the situation has deteriorated markedly, threatens to delay recovery. The acceleration in virus cases has been dramatic, with Prime Minister Modi noting how it has “shaken the nation”. Virus cases hit 349,000 on Saturday and show no sign of receding. The toll on the health system in India has been massive, but the variants also holds risks to the rest of the world while it will also lead to a major disruption in India’s vaccine exports, threatening vaccination programs in several countries.  

Friday’s economic data round was broadly firm. Alongside the US releases noted above, Euro area April PMIs were generally better than expected, with G10 manufacturing PMIs pointing to strengthening momentum overall.  Separately, Russia’s central bank, the CBR surprised with a bigger than expected 50bp rate hike.  Today’s data releases include the April German IFO business confidence survey; consensus expectations forecast an increase to 97.8 from 96.6 previously. In the US, durable goods orders are forecast to rise in March by 2.5% m/m following a weather-related 1.2% m/m drop in February.

The focus over the rest of the week will turn to central bank decisions in Japan, Sweden and Hungary (all on Tue) and the Federal Reserve FOMC (Wed).  Although the Bank of Canada’s shift last week will prompt a little more nervousness about G10 central bank tapering the policy meetings are likely to be largely uneventful, this week. Nonetheless, the Fed tone is likely to be more positive than in March, while in contrast the Bank of Japan may sound more cautious amid a third state of emergency in Tokyo. 

A key event this week will be President Biden’s address to a joint session of Congress.  After the hit to markets in the wake of the news of a proposal to hike taxes, markets will look for any further details.  Key data releases this week include Australia Q1 CPI inflation (Wed), US Q1 advance GDP (Thu), China’s April purchasing managers indices data (Fri) and Euro area Q1 GDP (Fri).  

Asia In Demand

Equity markets managed to shake off Covid concerns at the end of last week despite virus cases in the US reaching a record high and Europe battling a full-blown second wave; S&P 500 and Russell 2000 hit record highs.  Asian equities started the week building on this positive momentum.  Helping markets was the news that advisors to President-elect Joe Biden have said they oppose a nationwide US lockdown despite the sharp rise in virus cases.  This will help allay fears that the US economy will weaken sharply over the next few months amid severe lockdowns and before a vaccine can be distributed.

Vaccine enthusiasm will likely play against Covid escalation in the days and weeks ahead. In the near-term slim chances of a sizeable US fiscal stimulus taken together with a more rapid increase in global Covid infections highlight clear risks to risk assets, and this may be enough to put roadblocks in place at a time when various equity indices are reaching key technical levels.  Conversely, it is too early to write the US dollar off in the short term even if the medium-term trend is likely to be downwards. 

Asia remains favoured within emerging markets, as the virus has come under control across most of the region.  News of the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade deal by 15 countries in the region after 8 years of negotiations, but without the US and India, provides another boost to regional economic and market prospects.  The deal is less extensive than the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as it removes around 90% of tariffs rather than 100% under TPP.  Nonetheless, it is estimated that the deal could boost the global economy by close to $200bn by 2030.  Although the deal still has to be ratified by a number of countries it is a step closer to a unified trade block like the EU.   

Additionally, Chinese data today ought to be supportive for regional assets even amid the threat of further sanctions by President Trump’s administration in the weeks ahead. China’s October activity data including industrial production fixed assets investment, property investment and the jobless rate were on balance positive, showing that China’s economic recovery is gathering steam.  The data will likely provide further support to China’s markets including China’s currency, though it effectively seals the case for no further easing by China’s central bank, PBoC, while giving the rest of Asia more fuel to rally. 

Over the rest of the week emerging markets central banks will garner most attention, with a plethora of policy rate decisions on tap.  Hungary (Tue), Thailand (Wed), Philippines (Thu), South Africa (Thu), and China (Fri) are set to keep policy rates on hold while Indonesia (Thu) is likely to cut by 25bps and Turkey is expected to hike its policy rate by 475bp hike (Thu).   Turkey in particular will be a focus in this respect given the replacement of central bank governor and the more than 10% rally in the Turkish lira last week.

Japanese yen spikes higher

Events in Japan continue to dominate market action in this respect the situation is highly fluid. Markets will continue to gyrate on various pieces of news concerning the nuclear situation in Japan. As a result, risk aversion remains highly elevated and safe haven assets including US Treasuries, German bunds and the CHF are the main beneficiaries. In contrast, risk assets including global equity markets and risk currencies have come under growing pressure.

Prior to Japan’s earthquake risk aversion was already elevated amidst renewed eurozone peripheral bond tensions but the aftermath of the earthquake has seen our risk barometer rise to its highest level since the end of August last year. Any decline in risk aversion will depend on the nuclear situation coming under some form of control but until then the general “risk off” market tone will continue. Similarly currency and equity volatility will also remain relatively high.

Risk had been losing its influence on currencies over recent months but the spike in risk aversion over recent weeks has seen short-term correlations increase. The most highly impacted (highest correlations over the past month) currencies from higher risk aversion USD/JPY, USD/CHF, NZD/USD, NOK/SEK, EUR/CHF, EUR/HUF, EUR/PLN, USD/KRW. Over a three-month period all of the correlations are much lower and insignificant for the most part. JPY and CHF will likely remain the key beneficiaries in the current environment.

USD/JPY hit a low of 76.25 amidst volatile trading conditions but Japanese authorities noted that rumours of Japanese life and non life insurance companies repatriating funds back to Japan are “groundless”. USD/JPY bounced from its lows but there appears to be no sign of intervention although there may have been Bank of Japan rate checking, which helped to provoke some fears about imminent intervention. There is a high risk of FX intervention as long as USD/JPY remains below the 80.00 level.

Quantitative easing and the USD

US earnings are coming in ahead of expectations, with Q2 income at the 42 S&P 500 companies reporting so far beating estimates by 11% whilst revenues are 3.3% ahead of forecasts, according to Bloomberg. The overall tone to equities looks positive helped by expectations of an agreement by BP to sell some of its assets and strong earnings reported by Apple after the close of US trade.

Market sentiment was also boosted by speculation that the Fed will embark on fresh monetary stimulus measures. Although there has been no indication that Fed Chairman Bernanke will announce such measures at his semi-annual testimony to the Senate today and to the House tomorrow, speculation of Fed action is rife and there is likely to be some questioning of Bernanke on the issue in the Q&A. If in any way quantitative easing is hinted at by Bernanke, it will act to undermine the USD.

US economic data is helping to compound expectations of further quantitative easing, with yet another weaker than forecast release in the form of a 5.0% drop in June housing starts as hinted at by the bigger than expected drop in homebuilders confidence on the previous day. Separately ABC consumer confidence declined more than expected in the week to July 18, its third consecutive weekly decline, supporting the evidence that consumer confidence is deteriorating once again.

In the absence of major data releases Bernanke’s testimony will be the main driver for markets but earnings from Coca-Cola and Morgan Stanley will also be of interest. Elsewhere the minutes of the Bank of England’s July MPC meeting will be under scrutiny. MPC member Sentance is expected to have voted for a rate hike at the meeting, but any sign that other members joined him, will give GBP a lift. Sentiment for European assets continues to improve, with Greece concluding a well received T-bill auction and Ireland auctioning EUR 1.5bn in 6 and 10-year bonds. Both were heavily oversubscribed although concerns over Hungary continue to linger.

There continue to be various leaks about the European bank stress tests. Banks are expected to detail three scenarios in the results including estimated Tier 1 capital ratios under a benchmark for 2011, an adverse scenario and finally, a “sovereign shock”, according to a document from the Committee of European banking Supervisors. Importantly and perhaps a factor that could hit the credibility of the tests, the sovereign shock scenario is said to not include a scenario of default on sovereign debt.

I continue to see downside risk for the EUR in the wake of the test results, with a “buy on rumour, sell on fact” reaction likely. EUR/USD is vulnerable to a short-term drop to technical support around 1.2763 but much depends on Bernanke’s speech today. Leaks, suggest that around 10-20 banks could fail the bank stress tests, with a total funding requirement in the region of EUR 70-90 billion. Confirmation will have to wait for the official release on Friday ahead of which most currencies are likely to remain range-bound.

The Pain Of A Stronger Swiss Franc

Volatility and increasingly large market swings are characterizing current market conditions. A warning by Fitch on the UK’s “formidable” fiscal challenge, concerns about Bulgaria’s public finance statistics and a massive public sector strike in Spain, combined to fuel another bout of risk aversion.

Hungary’s government attempted to diffuse worries about its finances, with the country’s Prime Minister listing measures including cutting public pay and prohibiting mortgages denominated in foreign currencies, in order to hit the 3.8% of GDP budget deficit target. There was also some good news in the US, with small business confidence (NFIB) rising to its highest level since September 2008 whilst ABC consumer confidence edged higher.

The US Beige Book and Fed Chairman Bernanke’s testimony on the US economy to Congress, mark the highlights today. The Beige Book is set to reveal further signs of economic recovery but with limited inflation pressures. Bernanke is likely to maintain a similar tone to comments he made yesterday, highlighting a “moderate” economic recovery, with unemployment likely to stay “high for a while”. His testimony will be scrutinized for the timing of rate hikes, and any elaboration on his comments about rates rising before the economy is at full employment.

Against the background of the many and varied uncertainties still afflicting markets maintain a sell on rallies view on risk trades is still the best option. EUR/USD will struggle to breach resistance around 1.2010 and remains susceptible to test support around 1.1826. GBP/USD could target fresh lows in a “negative reversal”, with potential to head back down to 1.3996.

Confidence has plummeted to extreme lows and it will be several months before appetite for risk trades returns. The AUD and NZD as well as many Asian currencies will struggle over the interim period before their appreciation trend finally resumes.

In contrast to the weakening of risk currencies, CHF strength is showing little sign of letting up. Switzerland recorded a massive 50% jump in FX reserves in May to CHF 232 billion from CHF 153 billion in April. This is not usually market moving data but the scale of the jump in reserves is huge and it is not just due to valuation changes. The Swiss National Bank (SNB’s) effective abandonment of defending a particular level in EUR/CHF turned into more a smoothing operation but this did not stop the bank from massive FX interventions. Despite the interventions EUR/CHF dropped by 0.8% over the month.

Aside from alleviating upward pressure on the CHF the interventions had an indirect effect of reducing the pain of holders of CHF mortgages. E.g. around 30% of Hungary’s bank loans and 60% of mortgages are denominated in CHF but countries across Europe have plenty of CHF denominated loans, especially Austria. Although Hungary announced steps to meet its deficit targets its woes are far from over.

The CHF has appreciated by around 3% since the beginning of May versus HUF, exacerbating the pain for CHF borrowers in the country. The fact that CHF strength shows no sign of letting up on the back of strong data and safe haven flows, the pain for these borrowers will only add to the problems for banks and borrowers alike in Europe.

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