Sell On Fact

It was a case of buy on rumour, sell on fact at the end of last week, with US equities falling the most in over a week on Friday in the wake of the much anticipated but largely priced in announcement of President-elect Biden’s $1.9 trillion fiscal plan.  While the amount of stimulus is significant the reality is that it will be difficult to pass through Congress even though Democrats will have control of Congress and the Presidency. Something in the region of $1 trillion fiscal stimulus could end up being the price tag that is eventually passed in Congress given Republican opposition to some of the measures in the stimulus plan.  This would likely be followed by a possible $2trn+ plan for infrastrucutre/green spending.

Note that a 60-vote supermajority will be required to pass the fiscal legislation in the Senate, meaning that several Republicans will need to support the bill given the 50/50 Senate split.  Hence, a likely lower than $1.9trn eventual stimulus bill will be what is eventually passed. However, Democrats can pass the spending bill via “reconciliation”, but they would have to remove unrelated measures such as the proposed increase in the minimum wage, which they will unlikely want to do. 

Treasuries and the US dollar (USD) benefited from a worsening in risk sentiment at the end of last week.  USD positioning is at extremely low level, suggesting scope for some short covering. The VIX equity volatility index ticked higher and continues to remain well above its pre-COVID lows.  Given that many key equity gauges were in overbought territory according to their relative strength index (RSIs) some pullback/consolidation could be on the cards though the glut of global liquidity suggests that there is still plenty of money ready to buy on dips.  Yesterday US markets were closed due to the Martin Luther King Holiday, but Canadian and European stocks ended higher and futures point to gains today. 

US data isn’t helping sentiment, with yet more evidence that the economy was under pressure at the end of 2020.  Retail sales fell for a third consecutive month, the New York Empire manufacturing index fell for a fourth consecutive month in January. Lastly, University of Michigan consumer sentiment fell modestly early January.  Market direction today will likely come from the release of China’s December data dump as well as Q4 GDP.  In contrast to weakening US data Chinese data yesterday highlighted that solid recovery was sustained into year end, with GDP beating expectations, rising by 6.5% y/y in Q4 2020.  

The rest of this week is a heavy one for central bank decisions, with China, Malaysia, Canada (Wed), Indonesia, Eurozone, Turkey, South Africa, Brazil (Thu) and Japan (Fri) on tap.  In terms of policy action Malaysia is likely to cut, Turkey will likely tighten but the rest will likely be on hold.   The main event of the week is Joe Biden’s inauguration as 46th President of the US on Wednesday, and attendant risks of renewed unrest.  US Q4 earnings releases will also be in focus in the days ahead, with earnings releases ramping up over coming days.

The Week Ahead

As markets make the last strides towards year end it appears that currencies at least are becoming increasingly resigned to trading in ranges. Even the beleaguered EUR has not traded far from the 1.3200 level despite significant bond market gyrations. Even news that inflation in China came in well above expectations in November (5.1% YoY) and increased prospects of a rate hike is likely to prompt a limited reaction from a lethargic market.

At the tail end of last week US data provided further support to the growing pool of evidence indicating strengthening US economic conditions, with the trade deficit surprisingly narrowing in October, a fact that will add to Q4 GDP growth, whilst the Michigan measure of consumer confidence registered a bigger than expected increase in November to its highest level since June.

The jump in consumer confidence bodes well for retail spending and highlights the prospects that US November retail sales tomorrow are set to reveal solid gains both headline and ex-autos sales driven by sales and promotions over the holiday season. Other data too, will paint an encouraging picture, with November industrial production (Wed) set to reveal a healthy gain helped by a bounce in utility output. Manufacturing surveys will be mixed with a rebound in the Empire manufacturing survey in December likely but in contrast a drop in the Philly Fed expected.

The main event this week is the FOMC decision tomorrow the Fed is expected to deliver few surprises. The Fed funds rate is expected to remain “exceptionally low for an extended period”. Despite some recent encouraging data recovery remains slow and the fact that core inflation continues to decelerate (CPI inflation data on Wednesday is set to reveal a benign outcome with core CPI at 0.6%) whilst the unemployment rate has moved higher means that the Fed is no rush to alter policy including its commitment to buy $600 billion in Treasuries including $105 billion between now and January 11.

In Europe there are also some key releases that will garner plenty of attention including the December German ZEW and IFO investor and manufacturing confidence surveys and flash purchasing managers indices (PMI) readings. The data are set to remain reasonably healthy and may keep market attention from straying to ongoing problems in the eurozone periphery but this will prove temporary at least until the markets are convinced that European Union leaders are shifting away from “piecemeal” solutions to ending the crisis. The EU leaders’ summit at the end of the week will be important in this respect. A Spanish debt auction on Thursday will also be in focus.

Assuming the forecasts for US data prove correct it is likely that US bond markets will remain under pressure unless the Fed says something that fuels a further decline in yield such as highlighting prospects for more quantitative easing (QE). However, following the tax compromise agreement last week this seems unlikely. Higher relative US bond yields will keep the USD supported, and as I have previously noted, the most sensitive currencies will be the AUD, EUR and JPY, all of which are likely to remain under varying degrees of downward pressure in the short term. The AUD will also be particularly sensitive to prospects of further Chinese monetary tightening.

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