Looking For The Silver Lining

As the end of the year approaches it would take a minor miracle of sorts to turn around a dismal performance for equity markets in December.   The S&P 500 has fallen by just over 12% year to date, but this performance is somewhat better than that of equity markets elsewhere around the world.  Meanwhile 10 year US Treasury yields have dropped by over 53 basis points from their high in early November.

A host of factors are weighing on markets including the US government shutdown, President Trump’s criticism of Fed policy, ongoing trade concerns, worries about a loss of US growth momentum, slowing Chinese growth, higher US rates, etc, etc.   The fact that the Fed maintained its stance towards hiking rates and balance sheet contraction at the last FOMC meeting has also weighed on markets.

A statement from US Treasury Secretary Mnuchin attempting to reassure markets about liquidity conditions among US banks didn’t help matters, especially as liquidity concerns were among the least of market concerns.  Drawing attention to liquidity may have only moved it higher up the list of focal points for markets.

The other major mover is oil prices, which have dropped even more sharply than other asset classes.  Brent crude has dropped by over 40% since its high on 3 October 2018.   This has helped to dampen inflationary expectations as well as helping large oil importers such as India.  However, while part of the reason for its drop has been still robust supply, worries about global growth are also weighing on the outlook for oil.

But its not all bad news and markets should look at the silver lining on the dark clouds overhanging markets.  The Fed has become somewhat more dovish in its rhetoric and its forecasts for further rate hikes.  US growth data is not weak and there is still sufficient stimulus in the pipeline to keep the economy on a reasonably firm growth path in the next few months.  Separately lower oil is a positive for global growth.

There are also constructive signs on the trade front, with both US and China appearing to show more willingness to arrive at a deal.  In particular, China appears to be backing down on its technology advancement that as core to its “Made In China 2025” policy. This is something that it at the core of US administration hawks’ demands and any sign of appeasement on this front could bode well for an eventual deal.

Advertisements

Central Banks Galore

Although markets are quietening down and liquidity is thinning ahead of the holidays there are still a few important and potentially market moving events this week.   These include several central bank meetings, with the Fed FOMC at the top of the pile on Wednesday.  The Fed is widely expected to hike by 25bp to between 2.25% and 2.50% and remove any remaining forward guidance.

A few weeks ago there was little doubt that the Fed would hike rates this month, but since then it has looked like less of a done deal.  Dovish comments from Fed officials suggest that there will be a lot of attention on Fed Chairman Powell’s press conference, especially following his recent comments that interest rates are “just below neutral”.   Although the Fed is likely to hike, it is likely to be seen as a dovish hike, which ought to leave the USD without much support.

In Asia there are three central bank meetings in focus.  On Wednesday the Bank of Thailand (BoT) is likely to hike its benchmark by 25bps to 1.75%, largely due to financial imbalances (household debt and bad loans) rather than inflation concerns.  On Thursday Taiwan’s central bank meeting (CBC) is likely to keep its benchmark interest rate unchanged at 1.375%, with low and declining inflation, suggesting the long held status quo will be maintained.

Also on Thursday I expect no change in policy by Bank Indonesia. Inflation is clearly non-threatening from BI’s perspective and unless the IDR weakens anew, BI will increasingly be in a position to keep its powder dry. Elsewhere in Asia, the Bank of Japan will be in focus.  No change in policy is widely expected on Thursday, with the central bank still well away from any tightening in policy given still low inflation.

US dollar weakness providing relief

The US dollar index has weakened since mid-August 2018 although weakness in the broad trade weighted USD has become more apparent since the beginning of this month.  Despite a further increase in US yields, 10 year treasury yields have risen in recent weeks to close to 3.1%, the USD has surprisingly not benefited.  It is not clear what is driving USD weakness but improving risk appetite is likely to be a factor. Markets have been increasingly long USDs and this positioning overhang has also acted as a restraint on the USD.

Most G10 currencies have benefitted in September, with The Swedish krona (SEK), Norwegian Krone (NOK) and British pound (GBP) gaining most.  The Japanese yen (JPY) on the other hand has been the only G10 currency to weaken this month as an improvement in risk appetite has led to reduced safe haven demand for the currency.

In Asia most currencies are still weaker versus the dollar over September, with the Indian rupee leading the declines.  Once again Asia’s current account deficit countries (India, Indonesia, and Philippines) have underperformed most others though the authorities in all three countries have become more aggressive in terms of trying to defend their currencies.  Indeed, The Philippines and Indonesia are likely to raise policy interest rates tomorrow while the chance of a rate hike from India’s central bank next week has risen.

As the USD weakens it will increasingly help many emerging market currencies.   The likes of the Argentinian peso, Turkish lira and Brazilian real have been particularly badly beaten up, dropping 51.3%, 38.5% and 18.8%, respectively this year.  Although much of the reason for their declines have been idiosyncratic in nature, USD weakness would provide a major source of relief.  It’s too early to suggest that this drop in the USD is anything more than a correction especially given the proximity to the Fed FOMC decision later, but early signs are positive.

 

No relief for risk assets

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the tumultuous build up to the poll the Crimean referendum resulted in an over 90% vote to leave Ukraine and join Russia according to Russian state media. Risk assets were already under pressure leading into the vote and the news is not going to help sentiment in any way, with the West already denouncing the result and Russia seeing it as a validation of its stance. Further sanctions and other punitive measures are likely to be announced leading to a heightening of tensions and increased risk aversion.

Our risk barometer is already well into “risk hating” territory highlighting the intensifying pressure on risk assets and demand for safe havens. Consequently expect the likes of the CHF, JPY and gold to remain under upward pressure and anything with high beta to be under downward pressure.

There is also plenty of data and events to capture the interest of markets this week, with the Fed FOMC meeting capturing top billing. Unsurprisingly no change in policy is expected, with a USD 10 billion taper set to be announced. Fed Chairman Yellen is set to highlight that the bar remains high to any slowing in the pace of tapering while more qualitative guidance is set to be announced.

On the data front US data will remain weather impacted but nonetheless, February industrial production is set to reveal a small gain today while manufacturing surveys will reveal some improvement in March. Additionally housing starts are set to rebound in February. However, Treasury yields are likely to be capped despite more encouraging data as safe haven demand intensifies, leaving the USD also restrained.

In Europe the data flow is less numerous and what there is will support the view that more action is needed by the European Central Bank (ECB) to ease policy. February CPI inflation is set for a downward revision while the German ZEW investor confidence index will slip further.

Risk assets under growing pressure

The growing turmoil in emerging markets is inflicting damage on risk assets across the board and no let up is expected in the near term. Even the rally in US Treasuries has failed to provide any relief to risk assets given the weight of negative sentient. Whether triggered by concerns about a slowing in Chinese growth, Argentina’s letting go of its currency support, and/or political tensions elsewhere such as in Thailand and Ukraine or a combination of all of these, the picture looks increasingly volatile.

Additionally, earnings and valuation concerns are acting to restrain equity markets. Finally, lurking in the background as another weight on asset markets is Fed tapering, with a further USD 10 billion reduction in asset purchases expected to be announced by the Fed this week (Wednesday). The combination of the above spells more bad news in the days ahead, with risk assets set to remain under pressure this week.

Amid the growing gloom in global markets there are still some key data releases and events that will garner some attention this week. In the US as noted the Fed FOMC meeting is the main event, but December new home sales today, January consumer confidence tomorrow and Q4 GDP on Thursday will also be important. However, the former two releases are set to record declines implying a mixed slate of US releases this week.

In Europe, coming off the back of some encouraging flash purchasing managers’ indices the January German IFO business climate index will record its third consecutive gain, while Spanish GDP is set to record its second consecutive quarterly gain. A slight rebound in January inflation is unlikely to stand in the way of a further reinforcement of forward guidance by the European Central Bank.

In Japan Trade data reported today revealed an 18th straight month of deficit while inflation data will reveal that the Bank of Japan still has a lot of work to do to reach its 2% inflation target implying that there will be some discomfort with the recent rebound in the JPY. Finally, expect no change from the RBNZ at its policy meeting on Wednesday, which will leave the NZD under further pressure.

Bad news is good

Risk assets retained their positive performance into the end of last week, with US equities closing the week higher and the VIX ‘fear gauge” closing lower while 10 year US Treasury yields continued to pivot around 2.5%. Meanwhile the USD remains on the back foot finding little help from data releases especially last week’s September employment report. Friday’s release of September US durable goods orders similarly disappointed, with core orders coming in weaker than anticipated. The bad news is good philosophy of markets means that weaker data is helping to aid expectations that Fed tapering may be delayed, in turn boosting risk assets.

This week will bring much of the same. There are a plethora of US data releases on tap including September industrial production today, retail sales, CPI inflation and October consumer confidence and ISM manufacturing. Additionally there is a Fed FOMC meeting this week although no surprises are expected at this meeting. US data releases will look relatively soft but given the market mood this will bode well for risk assets. The jury is out with regard to the timing of tapering but increasingly many are looking for it take place in Mar/Apr 2014.

Europe has a more limited data calendar including the Bank Lending Survey of credit conditions and economic sentiment indicators. These will look a bit more positive than previous months. In Japan September jobs data and industrial production are on tap. Additionally two central bank meetings from the Bank of Japan and RBNZ will not result in any surprises, with policy set to remain unchanged.

It is difficult to see the USD achieving much of a recovery against the background of relatively weaker US data releases although it does appear that a lot of bad news is already priced in. The fact that US Treasury (10 year) yields have stabilised around 2.5% will help to limit any further downside pressure on the USD. Moreover, even if US data are softer this week, much of the market has already pared back tapering expectations into next year, suggesting little scope for expectations of a further tapering delay.

USD/JPY is finding some support around its 200 day moving average at 97.38 and given the stability in US yields will find some support in the near term. EUR/USD remains supported and will likely benefit from more encouraging Eurozone data releases this week but gains above 1.3800 are beginning to look increasingly stretched. GBP/USD pulled back from its highs around 1.6248 last week despite a reasonably good 0.8% QoQ Q3 GDP reading. This week’s UK data is likely to be little softer, with manufacturing confidence (PMI) likely to edge lower for a second straight month, a factor that could undermine GBP further.

USD edges higher, AUD supported, KRW in focus

US equities and risk assets in general edged higher overnight as US politicians edged towards a budget deal. The nomination of Janet Yellen as next Fed Chairman was met with a positive reaction from risk assets as it was perceived that she would be more likely to maintain the easy policy of her predecessor, with markets in any case delaying expectations of tapering into next year.

The Fed FOMC minutes released overnight gave little clarity on the timing of Fed tapering however, but it did highlight the split within the FOMC between those wanting to begin tapering in September and those preferring to wait. More consolidation is likely today as markets await political developments in the US.

Contrary to our expectations the USD has actually edged higher over recent days shaking off some the pressure associated with the budget impasse in the US. News that President Obama will meet around 20 senior Republicans from the House following a similar meeting with Democrats highlights progress of sorts, with hints of compromise in the air.

A slight uptick in US bond yields has managed to provide the USD with a semblance of support and further consolidation is likely in the short term as market fears over a US default gradually recede. Indeed, it appears that the USD is in a bottoming out process at present, with short term pain likely to give way to medium term gain.

GBP has lost ground over recent days undermined yesterday by disappointing August manufacturing/industrial production data and a worse than expected trade deficit. The data is unlikely to affect the outcome of today’s Bank of England MPC meeting however, with an unchanged outcome both on policy rates and asset purchases on the cards.

Despite yesterday’s data disappointments UK data has been improving and point to a reasonably good growth outcome in Q3 and a reduced likelihood of further asset purchases by the BoE. Nonetheless, GBP’s gains look overdone, with scope for short covering having diminished. Further pressure is expected against both EUR and GBP in the short term.

Australian jobs data revealed an increase of 9.1k in employment evenly split between full time and part time jobs and a surprise drop in the unemployment rate to 5.6%. The headline increase in employment was below consensus. Moreover, there was a marginal drop in the participation rate which helped to push the unemployment rate lower. On balance, the data will leave the AUD unperturbed, with the AUD/USD likely to remain supported over the short term. AUD/USD looks primed to test resistance around the 0.9530.

Asian currencies are on the back foot in the face of a slightly firmer USD. KRW will be in focus, with the Bank of Korea delivering an unchanged policy outcome but revising lower its growth and inflation forecasts. Against this background KRW appreciation looks overdone and appears to face strong resistance on any breach down to USD/KRW 1070. Nonetheless, downside risks will be limited. Encouragingly Korea has been a major beneficiary of the prospects of a delayed Fed tapering, with the country recording a strong return of equity portfolio flows over recent weeks

%d bloggers like this: