Reflation Trade Is Back

A much softer than expected US January jobs report didn’t prevent US equities from closing higher at the end of last week as the reflation trade kicked back in.  One of the biggest driving forces for markets was the growing prospects that much of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion fiscal stimulus plan will be passed, albeit via a process of reconciliation, which allows Democrats to circumvent the need to gain the support of at least 10 republicans. This contrasts with prior expectations that the final stimulus was going to be less than $1 trillion. 

Pushing stimulus through this way highlights Biden’s urgency to inject more spending into the economy but could come at the cost of hurting bipartisan policy efforts. The impact of expectations of increased fiscal stimulus is particularly apparent in the US rates market, with US Treasuries selling off and bear steepening of the curve.  Although higher US Treasury yields failed to give support to the US dollar (USD) there is still scope for a short covering rally, which could still help give the USD relief.     

At the beginning of the year the US jobs market took a hit from renewed lockdowns and surge in COVID cases; US January non-farm payrolls increased 49k, and December was revised to -227k from -140k while more positively the unemployment rate fell to 6.3% from 6.7% though this was flattered by a drop in the participation rate as less people were looking for work.  According to the payrolls report there are still 9.9 million more unemployed compared to pre-COVID levels.  As such, the weak jobs data added more support to Biden’s fiscal stimulus proposals.   

This week focus will likely turn more to President Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate than economic data.  Key data/events this week include China’s credit and monetary aggregates (9-15 Feb), central bank decisions in Sweden (Wed), Philippines, Mexico (Thu) and Russia (Fri).  Among these the consensus is for only Mexico to cut its policy rate. Also in focus are inflation readings in China (Wed), US (Wed) and India (Fri).  UK GDP (Fri) and US Michigan sentiment (Fri) will also garner attention. 

The return of the reflation trade, rally in risk assets and decline in cross-asset volatility bodes well for emerging markets (EM) assets.  However, there are definitely various cross currents impacting asset markets at present especially with US Treasury yields rising, which could potentially support the USD and pressure EM local bond rates markets.  EM assets were clearly favoured towards the end of last year, and while the positive story has not dissipated, EM assets may take a pause for breath before pushing higher again.  

In Asia, the Chinese-new-year holidays this week may dampen activity while China’s PBoC also appears to be limiting liquidity injections around the holidays, which could limit some of the gains in Chinese and impact China linked assets.  Chinese authorities have re-focussed attention on preventing an excessive build-up of leverage and credit metrics have peaked as a result.  As such, they may be less keen to inject a lot of liquidity into markets at present. 

Sour end to the week

It’s a sour end to the week for markets. Just as emerging markets (EM) were beginning to see some signs of stability, a surge in US Treasury bond yields (hitting a high of 3.23%) acted to fuel another round of pressure, pushing bond yields higher globally while denting equity market sentiment.   As a result EM equities took another beating and EM currencies fell against a resurgent USD.

The surge in US yields followed a run of strong US data including a gauge of service sector sentiment (ISM non-manufacturing index hit a new expansion high) and strong private sector jobs data (ADP jobs report).  Constructive comments from Fed Chairman Powell on the economy, supporting expectations that US interest rates will be hiked again in December, added to the upbeat mood on the economy.   At the time of writing attention is focused on the US September jobs report which is unlikely to detract from the upbeat US growth story.

US-China tensions are another factor weighing on sentiment.  While there has been no sign of any progress on trade talks even as the US agreed trade deals with Canada and Mexico, criticism by US Vice President Mike Pence on Chinese policy, has weighed on Asian markets.  There appears to be no sign of any appeasement between the two countries, suggesting that tensions will not easy anytime soon.

Any hope of a recovery in risk assets especially in emerging markets as we go into the final quarter of the year are beginning tofade.   After losing ground over much of September the USD has bounced back with a vengeance, while US assets continue to outperform much of the rest of the world, attracting even more capital.  While heavy long USD positioning and increasingly stretched US equity valuations hold risks against further gains in both, markets are not yet willing to run from US assets.

Contrasting US and European data

While the week is likely to commence in a positive mood as political uncertainties in Greece and Italy ease somewhat, there are still plenty of uncertainties that could derail risk appetite. In particular, there has been little progress on agreeing on further details on leveraging the EFSF bailout fund. Moreover, many are looking to the European Central Bank (ECB) to take up the role as lender of the last resort. Indeed, the difficulty of the EFSF debt issue last week to garner demand puts the onus firmly on the ECB.

While it is likely that the ECB will have to step up its bond purchases especially given the heavy bond supply this week from Italy, France and Spain, the ECB is very reluctant to take up this mantle. As a result, peripheral and increasingly core bond market sentiment will remain fragile while the EUR will be vulnerable to a drop lower, especially given how rich it looks around current levels close to 1.38 versus USD. The week will likely be one of selling risk on rallies.

Data releases this week will show some contrasts between the US and Europe. US data will further dampen expectations of more Fed quantitative easing, with October retail sales and industrial production set to register gains and November manufacturing surveys likely to bounce. Several Federal Reserve speeches this week will shed more light on the FOMC’s stance and likely some support for purchases of mortgage backed securities will be reiterated.

In contrast eurozone data will show further deceleration. Industrial production in September is likely to have dropped sharply while the German ZEW investor confidence survey is set to have dropped further in November. Even an expected bounce in eurozone Q3 GDP will do little to stave off recession concerns given that growth in the final quarter of the year will have been much weaker. Banking sector develeraging will only add to growth concerns as credit expansion in curtailed.

In FX markets, the risk currencies will be vulnerable to selling pressure. EUR/USD has rebounded having tested highs around 1.3815 this morning but its gains look increasingly fragile. USD/JPY continues to grind lower, with no sign of further intervention from the Japanese authorities. Elevated risk aversion and the narrow US yield advantage continues to support the JPY making the job of weakening the currency harder. GBP has done well although it has lagged the EUR against the USD over recent days. A likely dovish stance in the Bank of England (BoE) quarterly inflation report will see GBP struggle to extend gains above 1.60 against the USD.

Plenty of event risk

This week is heavy with event risk, with a lot expected from EU leaders. So far the risk on tone to markets has held up, with for example the VIX fear gauge resting below the key 30.0. The G20 meeting over the weekend set the deadline for action for concrete solutions to the eurozone debt crisis for the October 23 EU Summit.

However, there will be little detail on issues such as banking sector recapitalisation, private sector involvement in any debt restructuring or ‘leveraging’ the EFSF bailout fund until the report on Wednesday night by the Troika on Greece. The reward to EU leaders would be the potential for more aid from the IMF but even now it seems that a German government official has poured cold water of a plan being announced at the EU Summit which will disappoint markets.

There are also plenty of data releases for markets to digest over coming days including inflation releases, manufacturing surveys and industrial production data in the US while in Europe the German IFO and ZEW surveys are scheduled for release. The data will follow on from the better than expected September US retail sales releases at the end of last week continuing to dampen expectations that the global economy is falling in recession though there will be a marked deceleration in European data.

Meanwhile the US Q3 earnings season rolls. The risk on tone will likely continue to weigh on the USD and weigh on bonds but unlike a few weeks ago when a lot of bad news was priced in, the scope for disappointment is becoming increasingly high.

Many currencies remain highly correlated with gyrations in risk and in this respect the improvement in risk appetite is good news for high beta / commodity. AUD, NZD, CAD and JPY are amongst the most sensitive currencies and therefore prone to a bigger reaction as risk improves, with the former three strengthening and the JPY weakening. Asian currencies poised to benefit from firmer risk appetite include INR and KRW, both with relatively high correlations with risk.

EUR/USD has made a solid recovery over recent days from its lows around 1.3146 spurred by hopes of action by European officials. Such hopes may yet be dashed but the EUR looks supported over coming days ahead of the EU summit Speculative positioning also reflects a slight improvement in EUR sentiment as IMM short positions have declined in the last week but its worth noting that this week’s European data are unlikely to be supportive for the EUR.

In the eye of the storm

The rout in global markets continues as the bad news mounts up. Failure to achieve concrete results from the meeting of eurozone finance ministers yesterday together with intensifying banking sector concerns and weaker global manufacturing surveys left a sour taste for investors. Aside from the selloff in global stocks the EUR fell to an eight month low and looks on track to test psychological support around 1.30 versus USD.

Attention continues to be focussed on the Greece. Greece’s failure to meet its deficit targets did not appear to derail the prospects of the country receiving it’s next loan tranche but discussions between the Troika and Greek officials are ongoing and payment to Greece may not now be made until November. European officials have indicated that they will reassess Greece’s deficit targets combining 2011 and 2012 targets, suggesting some leeway for Greece to be able to qualify for the next loan tranche.

One reason that markets are reacting negatively is the hints from Eurozone officials that the agreement reached in July on a second bailout for Greece may need “technical” revisions which has been perceived to imply bigger write downs for Greek bond holders compared to the haircuts of 21 percent agreed back in July.

There seems to be no end to the problems for the EUR and markets are clearly running out of patience. Over the near tem there appears to be little to prevent sentiment from deteriorating further. What is needed is a clear plan and this is clearly not forthcoming. Greece remains in the eye of the storm but as yet there is no plan to ring fence the country and avoid a deeper fallout globally.

Elsewhere risk currencies in general continue to be hit, with the AUD in particular facing pressure as the RBA hinted at prospects of interest rate cuts in the weeks ahead. The outright winner is the USD and further gains are likely as risk aversion continues to intensify despite the fact that the US has it’s own problems to deal with. As we move further into October the potential for more volatility remains high.

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