Double Whammy

Markets were dealt a double whammy resulting in a broad global equity and commodities sell off, and a jump in equity and FX volatility. The risk asset selling began following the news that the Conference Board revised its leading economic indicator for China to reveal a 0.3% gain in April compared to 1.7% increase initially reported earlier.

Given that this indicator has not been a market mover in the past it is difficult to see how it had such a big impact on the market but the fact that the release came at a time when the mood was already downbeat gave a further excuse to sell.

The damage to markets was exacerbated by a much steeper drop than forecast in US consumer confidence, with the index falling to 52.9 in June, almost 10 points lower than the consensus expectation. Consumer confidence remains at a relatively low level in the US, another reason to believe that the US economy will grow at a sub-par pace.

Renewed economic and job market worries were attributable for the fall in confidence, with an in increase in those reporting jobs as “hard to get” supporting the view of a below consensus outcome for June non-farm payrolls on Friday. Further clues will be derived from the June ADP jobs report today for which the consensus is looking for a 60k increase.

A run of weaker than forecast US data releases over recent weeks have resulted in a softening in the Fed’s tone as revealed in the last FOMC statement as well as a fears of a double-dip recession. There will not be any good news today either, with the June Chicago PMI index set to have recorded a slight decline in June, albeit from a high level.

There will also be attention on the release of the US Congressional Budget Office (CBO) 10-year budget outlook, which will put some focus back on burgeoning US fiscal deficit and relative (to Europe) lack of action to rectify it.

European worries remain a key contributor to the market’s angst, with plenty of nervousness about the repayment of EUR 442 billion in 12-month borrowing to the ECB. Demand for 3-month money today will give clues to the extent of funding issues in European banks given that the 12-month cash will not be rolled over.

Elevated risk aversion will keep most risk currencies under pressure, with the likes of the AUD, NZD and CAD also suffering on the back of lower commodity prices. The AUD has failed to gain much traction from a purported deal being offered to miners including various concessions to the mining industry. Much will depend on the reaction of mining companies, and despite the concessions there is importantly no reduction in the 40% rate of the tax.

Equity markets, especially the performance of Chinese stocks will give direction today but a weak performance for Asian equities points to more risk being taken off the table in the European trading session. EUR/USD will now set its sights on a drop to support around 1.2110 ahead of a likely drop towards 1.2045. Having dropped below support around 88.95 USD/JPY will see support coming in around 87.95.

Asian currencies also remain vulnerable to more selling pressure today, with the highly risk sensitive KRW looking most at risk in the short-term, with markets likely to ignore the upbeat economic data released this morning. USD/KRW looks set to target the 11 June high around 1247.80. Other risk sensitive currencies including MYR and IDR also face pressure in the short-term. TWD will be slightly more resilient in the wake of the China/Taiwan trade deal but much of the good news has been priced in, suggesting the currency will not escape the downturn in risk appetite.

Why the Fed should be in no hurry to hike rates

Equity markets struggled to gain traction last week and finally lost ground registering their first weekly decline in month.  It finally looks as though markets are succumbing to the inevitable; the realisation that the recovery is going to be a rocky ride but neither will it be rapid or aggressive.  Markets look as though they have just about run out of fuel and after registering major relief that the global economy was not falling into an endless whole and that financial markets were not going to implode, the equity rally has finally come to a point where it will need more than just news about “green shoots” to keep it going. 

One question that has been raised in particular in bond markets and in interest rate futures pricing is whether these “green shoots” have accelerated the timing of the end of quantitative easing and/or higher interest rates.  Although the markets have retraced some of the tightening expectations that had built in following the May US jobs report there will be a lot of attention on whether the Fed will attempt to allay market concerns that current policy settings will result in inflation running out of control and necessitate a hike in interest rates. 

The Fed’s job shouldn’t be too difficult. In usual circumstances the expansion of the money supply undertaken by the Fed would have had major implications for inflation.  However, the circulation of money (money multiplier) in the economy has collapsed during the recession as consumers have been increasingly reluctant to borrow and lenders have become increasingly reluctant to lend.  The end result has been to blunt the impact of Fed policy.  Of course, once the multiplier picks up the Fed will need to be quick to remove its massive policy accommodation without fuelling a rise in inflation.  If it didn’t it would be bad both for long term interest rates as well as the dollar. 

Although the current policy of quantitative easing is untested and therefore has a strong element of risk attached to it the reality is that the Fed is unlikely to have too much of a problem on its hands.  The explanation for this is that there will be plenty of slack in the economy for months if not years to come.  The labour market continues to loosen and as the US unemployment rate increases most probably well in excess of 10%, wage pressures will continue to be driven down.  

In addition there is plenty of excess capacity in the manufacturing sector and as the May industrial production report revealed the capacity utilisation rate dropped to 68.3%, a hefty 12.6% below its average for 1972-2008.  Inflation data continues to remain subdued as revealed by last week’s release core inflation remains comfortable at a 1.8% annual rate.   Weaker corporate pricing power suggests that core inflation will remain subdued over coming months and will even fall further, so there will be little threat to Fed policy.  

The output gap (difference between real GDP and potential GDP) remains wide and according to CBO estimates of potential GDP the economy will end the year growing at around 8% below its full capacity.  Even if the economy grows above potential for the next few years it may only just close the output gap and subsequently begin fuelling inflation pressures.  The bigger risk is that the economy grows slowly over coming years and takes several years to close the output gap. 

Taking a perspective of past Fed rate hikes following the last two recessions, interest rate markets should take some solace.  In 2001 the Fed begin to hike rates until around 2 ½ years after the end of the recession whilst in the 1990-91 recession rates did not go up until close to 3 years following the end of recession.  Arguably this recession is worse in terms of depth and breadth suggesting that it will take a long time before the Fed even contemplates reversing policy.

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