Oil Surges, Central Banks Galore

Oil prices jumped following drone attacks on Saudi Arabian oil facilities over the weekend.  Oil rose by around 20% to just shy of $72, before halving its gain later.  Even after failing to hold onto initial gains the rise in oil prices still marks one if its biggest one day gains.  Concerns about reduced oil supply have risen as a result of the attacks as they could reduce Saudi oil production for a prolonged period, with around 5% of global oil supply impacted.  Additionally the attacks could raise geopolitical tensions in the region.

As markets digest the impact of the drone attacks, there will also be several central bank decisions globally to focus on this week.  The main event is the Fed FOMC meeting mid-week, where a 25bp cut is largely priced in by the market.  Given that a rate cut is well flagged markets will pay close attention to the Fed’s summary of economic projections, in particular the Fed’s dot plot.  It seems unlikely that Fed Chair Powell is going to sound too dovish, with little to suggest that the Fed is on path for a more aggressive easing path.

Another major central bank meeting this week is the Bank of Japan (BoJ) on Thursday.  While a policy move by the BoJ at is unlikely this week BoJ policy makers have sounded more open to easing.  A consumption tax hike planned for next month together with a strong JPY have increased the pressure for the BoJ to act. Separately easier policy from other major central banks amid slowing global growth are unlikely be ignored.  However, policy is already ultra- easy and the BoJ remains cognisant of the adverse secondary impact of policy on Japanese Banks.

The Bank of England deliberates on policy this week too but it seems highly unlikely that they would adjust policy given all the uncertainties on how Brexit developments will pan out.  Until there is some clarity, the BoE is likely to remain firmly on hold, with the base rate remaining at 0.75%.  GBP has rallied over recent weeks as markets have stepped back from expectations of a hard Brexit, but this does not mean that a deal is any closer than it has been over the past months.  Elsewhere the SNB in Switzerland and Norges Bank in Norway are also expected to keep policy rates on hold this week.

Several emerging markets central banks will also deliberate on policy this week including in Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia and Taiwan.  The consensus (Bloomberg) expects a 50bp rate cut in Brazil, no change in South Africa and Taiwan and a 25bp rate cut in Indonesia.  Overall many emerging markets continue to ease policy amid slowing growth, lower US policy rates and declining inflation pressures.

 

Central banks in focus this week

Several central bank decisions are on tap this week including Japan (BoJ), Switzerland (SNB), Norway (Norges Bank), Brazil (BCB) and Thailand (BoT).  Among these only the Norges Bank looks likely to hike rates.

US data is largely second tier this week, with August housing data due for release.  After a run of weak readings a bounce back in starts and existing home sales is expected.   RBA minutes in Australia and NZ Q2 macro data are also in focus.

Political events will garner most attention, with the delayed announcement on China tariffs ($200bn) possible as early as today after being delayed due to the consideration of revisions raised via public comment.  Another twist in the saga is that China is considering declining the US offer of trade talks given the recent Trump threat of fresh tariffs (WSJ).

Other political events include Japan’s LDP election and US trade negotiations (assuming China participates) at the end of the week.   A few Brexit events this week include the General Affairs Council and Informal EU Summit.

 

CHF under pressure

In sharp contrast to AUD but for the same rationale (improving risk appetite and low volatility) the CHF has succumbed to pressure. Comments this week by Swiss National Bank officials highlighting their resolve to enforce the CHF cap, their belief that the currency is still overvalued, and are prepared to take further steps, highlight that the Swiss authorities wish for a much deeper correction lower in the currency. This is unsurprising as the CHF real effective exchange rate has been on a strengthening path over recent months, much to the likely chagrin of the SNB.

The fact that Swiss CPI inflation dropped back into negative territory on a YoY basis in February reinforces the need to further weaken the currency. Steps such as negative deposit rates and/or FX intervention cannot be ruled out. In the meantime, USD/CHF looks set to test resistance around 0.8930 (26 Feb high).

CHF pressures

USD/CHF and EUR/CHF enjoyed a bounce as risk aversion eased but continued uncertainty over the situation in the Ukraine suggests that any upward momentum will be limited. The fact that the largest economic impact from any worsening in tensions with Russia will be felt in the Eurozone highlights that life may become difficult once again for the Swiss National Bank as renewed safe haven inflows move into the country. Indeed the EUR/CHF floor at 1.20 may be tested over coming weeks. Data tomorrow will likely give further reason for the SNB to oppose CHF strength, with the annual rate of CPI inflation set to remain very low.

Fed keeps the party going

The party goes on! The Fed decided to play on the side of caution by not acquiescing to market expectations. The FOMC maintained its current USD 85 billion of asset purchases wanting to see more evidence of economic recovery before pulling the trigger. Market expectations centred on a USD 10-15 billion paring back of asset purchases. Clearly worried about a rise in market interest rates Fed Chairman Bernanke strengthened the Fed’s forward guidance by highlighting that the first rate increase may not come until the unemployment rate is “considerably below” 6.5%. A downgrade in the Fed’s economic forecasts will also have helped to justify the inaction by the FOMC.

Clearly risk assets loved what they saw, with equities and commodities rallying and US Treasury yields dropping. Gold prices in particular jumped on the news while the VIX ‘fear gauge’ dropped. The USD was a major casualty losing ground to most currencies, with notably EUR/USD spiking above 1.35 and GBP/USD to above 1.60. High beta emerging market currencies were big winners, given the positive impact of lower US yields and prospects of ongoing capital inflows. While the Fed has merely delayed tapering this will not stop markets from following through on the positive dynamic today. The positive tone will be reinforced across Asian and European markets.

The sharp drop in US Treasury yields hit the USD hard and it is likely to remain under pressure over the short term against a variety of currencies. Although the drop in US yields is likely to prove temporary it is difficult to go against the move in the near term. In order to identify which currencies will benefit the most versus USD I have looked at their sensitivity to US 10 year Treasury yields. The biggest beneficiaries will be Asian currencies given that they register the strongest correlations. The IDR, THB, MYR and INR are at the top of the list in this respect. In any case Asia was already experiencing a resumption of capital inflow as tapering expectations were being priced in and the Fed inaction will reinforce this trend.

GBP bounced following the unanimous vote for no policy shift revealed in the Sep 3-4 Bank of England MPC meeting minutes. Its gains were reinforced by Fed inaction overnight, with GBP/USD breaking through key levels above 1.60. Although the MPC’s 9-0 vote for no change was in line with expectations there was a minority looking for one of two MPC members to have voted for increased asset purchases. Citing upside risks to the growth outlook the BoE appears more confident about the UK’s economy. However, this all but makes a mockery of “forward guidance” and attempts to cap market interest rates. A further test for GBP will come from today’s August retail sales release. There are downside risks to consensus but even this may prove to a temporary stumbling block to a resurgent GBP.

The Swiss National Bank is widely expected to keep policy unchanged today and will make no changes to the CHF ceiling. The desire to keep the ceiling in place remains strong even though the economy is showing signs of recovery, deflationary pressures are receding and capital inflows from the Eurozone have diminished and in fact showing signs of reversing, albeit slowly. Reflecting this SNB reserves growth has slowed while Swiss banks’ foreign liabilities have decreased. The fact that the currency remains overvalued however, means that there is only an extremely slim chance that the ceiling will be removed over coming months. Although the SNB will likely revise upwards its growth forecasts, expect a cautious tone to emerge from the meeting. Accordingly EUR/CHF is set to remains capped around 1.2400 over the near term.

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