Waiting For The Fed To Come To The Rescue

COVID-2019 has in the mind of the market shifted from being a localized China and by extension Asia virus to a global phenomenon.  Asia went through fear and panic are few weeks ago while the world watched but did not react greatly as equities continued to rally to new highs outside Asia.  All this has changed dramatically over the last week or so, with markets initially spooked by the sharp rise in cases in Italy and Korea, and as the days have progressed, a sharp increase in the number of countries recording cases of infection.

The sell off in markets has been dramatic, even compared to previous routs in global equity markets.  It is unclear whether fading the declines is a good move given that the headline news flow continues to worsen, but investors are likely to try to look for opportunity in the malaise.   The fact that investors had become increasingly leveraged, positioning had increased significantly and valuations had become stretched, probably added more weight to the sell-off in equity markets and risk assets globally.  Conversely, G10 government bonds have rallied hard, especially US Treasuries as investors jump into safe havens.

Markets are attempting a tentative rally in risk assets today in the hope that major central banks and governments can come to the rescue.  The US Federal Reserve on Friday gave a strong signal that it is prepared to loosen policy if needed and markets have increasingly priced in easing , beginning with at least a 25bps rate cut this month (19 March).  The question is now not whether the Fed cuts, but will the cut be 25bp or 50bp.  Similarly, the Bank of Japan today indicated its readiness to support the economy if needed as have other central banks.

As the number of new infections outside of China is now increasing compared to new infections in China, and Chinese officials are promising both fiscal and monetary stimulus, China is no longer the main point of concern.  That said, there is no doubt that China’s economy is likely to tank this quarter; an early indication came from the sharp decline in China’s official manufacturing purchasing managers’ index, which fell to a record low of 35.7 in February, deep into contraction territory.  The imponderable is how quickly the Chinese economy will get back on its feet.  The potential for “V” shape recovery is looking increasingly slim.

Volatility has also risen across markets, though it is notable that FX volatility has risen by far less than equity or interest rate volatility, suggesting scope for catch up.  Heightened expectations of Fed rate cuts, and sharp decline in yields, alongside fears that the number of virus cases in the US will accelerate, have combined to weigh on the US dollar, helping many currencies including the euro and emerging market currencies to make up some lost ground.  This is likely to continue in the short term, especially if overall market risk appetite shows some improvement.

Markets will likely struggle this week to find their feet.  As we’re seeing today there are attempts to buy into the fall at least in Asia.  Buyers will continue to run into bad news in terms of headlines, suggesting that it will not be an easy rise. Aside from watching coronavirus headlines there will be plenty of attention on the race to be the Democrat Party presidential candidate in the US, with the Super Tuesday primaries in focus.  UK/Europe trade talks will also garner attention as both sides try to hammer out a deal, while OPEC will meet to deliberate whether to implement output cuts to arrest the slide in oil prices.  On the data front, US ISM manufacturing and jobs data will be in focus.

EUR to drift lower, AUD supported, JPY flatlines

EUR/USD has failed to retake the 1.2400 handle and as noted yesterday looks set to gradually make its way lower again. News that the German government lent its support to the European Central Bank (ECB) bond buying plan helped to limit losses overnight, but there is likely to be little news on the policy front over coming weeks as Europe moves into full blown summer holiday mode.

No news is perhaps good news, but market patience continues to run thin and the EUR will eventually be punished should policy makers fail to deliver which has been so often the case. With only German factory orders in terms of data releases of note today, EUR/USD is set to settle into a range, but with a downside bias.

The RBA meeting today is likely to prove relatively uneventful. Almost all analysts polled expect a no change outcome from the Reserve Bank. As this is the largely priced in, the main influence on AUD will be the accompanying statement. The market is overly aggressive in pricing in 75 basis points of policy rate cuts over the coming months and in this respect it will require a particularly dovish statement to validate these expectations.

More likely, the RBA will sound neutral reflecting on relatively firm data (except the June jobs report) releases since the last meeting and a better global environment. Combined with strong attraction to ‘carry’ trades and a firmer tone to risk appetite, AUD looks well supported, with technical support seen around 1.0437.

USD/JPY continues to flat line just above the 78.00 level ahead of this week’s Bank of Japan meeting. There is unlikely to be much excitement from the BoJ meeting but the pressure to take more aggressive steps to reach their 1% inflation goal as well as to weaken the JPY remains strong. The 78.00 level appears to be an uncomfortable equilibrium for markets and Japanese policymakers.

Although low implied FX volatility suggests that there is little expectation of a move in either direction Japanese officials continue to remain concerned about the strength of the JPY. Similarly, the US Treasury bond versus Japanese JGB yield differential (2 year) remains relatively steady, suggesting little directional impetus in the short term. Given hopes / expectations of more Fed quantitative easing it seems unlikely that USD/JPY will make much traction on the upside over coming weeks.

What would a Greek exit mean for the euro?

Excuse the lack of posts over recent days. I’m just finishing up a trip to London and am back in HK at the end of the week. I thought in the meantime it would be worth discussing the impact on the euro of a potential Greek exit.

The fact that European officials are openly talking about the prospects of a Greek exit from the Eurozone highlights just how drastic the situation has become. Much will depend on the outcome of new government in Greece in mid June following inconclusive elections recently. Even fresh elections in mid June does not mean that it will be any easier to form a government, leaving the option of a euro exit firmly on the table.

If Greece was to leave the Eurozone there would be a significant amount of confusion in FX markets. It is not obvious that the EUR would strengthen. It could be argued that the departure of Greece would eliminate the weakest link in the chain thus allowing the EUR some relief. Should Greece default on its debt and leave the Eurozone it would not have a marked direct impact on the Eurozone economy but the biggest risk is the financial contagion to other Eurozone countries.

A Greek exit would imply a new currency (Drachma) for the country, a separate monetary policy etc. However, any competitive gain from a weaker currency would be lost in a huge increase in inflation while the local corporate sector would be forced to default en mass on any EUR debt that they hold. Confidence in the new currency would be weaker leading to an exodus of capital further strengthening the EUR.

Admittedly the Eurozone would be stronger without Greece but it would not be long before market attention turned to Portugal and Ireland and even Spain as the next candidates for exit. Indeed, a Greek exit would set a precedent that did not exist previously. It would imply a significant increase in volatility for the EUR given the uncertainty it would create for other Eurozone members. Any rally in the EUR that would be experienced following a Greek exit would therefore be very short lived.

Ultimately for the EUR to experience a sustained strengthening it would require some sign that policy makers are addressing growth concerns as well as progress on austerity and deficit reduction. The formation of a common Eurobond, increased spending on investment projects to enhance productivity, reform of labour markets and a bolstering of the firewall around other peripheral countries would help confidence.

However, this is a long way off and the EUR is likely to suffer for some months to come as growth worries and peripheral country tensions persist. The downside risks to the EUR are clearly opening. The fact that the market is very short EUR already may limit the pace of decline but not stem it. There may be some stabilisaiton of the EUR towards year end assuming Eurozone officials get their act together.

However, in the interim the situation could become far more dire. If Greece were to exit, the prospects of further financial contagion would result in more and not less pressure on the EUR, leading to a potential drop to around the mid 2010 lows just below 1.20. Even if Eurozone political and debt tensions subside I still believe the EUR will decline based on an unfavourable growth and yield differential trajectory but it is clear that the downside risks are much greater even with short market positioning, should the situation deteriorate. In this event, even the strong bids from official investors (namely Asian central banks and sovereign wealth funds) will pull back and the EUR could plunge sharply.

Dollar still in a stupor

The increase in the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) funding by $430 adds another layer of firepower to provide help to the Eurozone periphery should it be required. Nonetheless, many other worries continue to afflict markets suggesting that any positive boost will be short lived. There are plenty of data and events this week including central banks in the US, Japan and New Zealand. Additionally US corporate earnings will remain in focus while bond auctions in the Eurozone will also provide direction. I continue to see risk aversion creeping higher against this background.

It is unlikely that the FOMC meeting tomorrow and Wednesday will provoke any change in the currently low FX volatility environment given that policy settings will remain unchanged, with the majority of FOMC members likely to look for the first tightening at the earliest in 2014. The Fed is therefore unlikely to wake the USD out of its stupor and if anything a softening in durable goods orders, little change in new home sales and a pull back in consumer confidence will play in favour of USD bears over coming days. Even a relatively firm reading for Q1 GDP will be seen as backward looking given the slowing expected in Q2.

The EUR will have to contend with political events as it digests the aftermath of the first round of the French presidential elections. The fact that the political process will continue to a second round on 6 May could act as a constraint on the EUR. Various ‘flash’ purchasing managers indices (PMI) readings and economic sentiment gauges will offer some fundamental direction for the EUR but largely stable to softer readings suggest little excitement. Consequently EUR/USD will largely remain within its recent range although developments in Spain and Italy and their debt markets will have the potential to invoke larger moves in EUR.

The JPY is usually quite insensitive to Japanese data releases and this is unlikely to change this week. Key releases include March jobs data, CPI inflation, industrial production and retail trade. Although inflation has moved into barely positive territory the BoJ is still set to increase the size of its asset purchase programme. This will act as a negative factor for the JPY but unless US Treasury yield differentials renew their widening trend against Japanese JGB yields and drop in the JPY will be limited.

Risk on mood prevails

The end of the year looks as though it will finish in a firmly risk on mood. Equity volatility in the form of the VIX index at its lowest since July 2007. FX volatility remains relatively low. A lack of market participants and thinning volumes may explain this but perhaps after a tumultuous year, there is a certain degree of lethargy into year end.

Whether 2011 kicks off in similar mood is debatable given the many and varied worries remaining unresolved, not the least of which is the peripheral sovereign debt concerns in the eurozone. It is no surprise that the one currency still under pressure is the EUR and even talk that China offered to buy Portuguese sovereign bonds has done little to arrest its decline.

Reports of officials bids may give some support to EUR/USD just below 1.31 but the various downgrades to ratings and outlooks from ratings agencies over the past week has soured sentiment for the currency. The latest move came from Fitch ratings agency which placed Greece’s major banks on negative ratings watch following the move to place the country’s ratings on review for a possible downgrade.

The USD proved resilient to weaker than forecast data including a smaller than forecast 5.6% gain in existing home sales in November. The FHFA house price index recorded a surprise gain of 0.7% in October, which mitigated some of the damage. The revised estimate of US Q3 GDP revealed a smaller than expected revision higher to 2.6% QoQ annualized from a previous reading of 2.5%. Moreover, the core PCE was very soft at 0.5% QoQ, supporting the view that the Fed has plenty of room to keep policy very accommodative.

Despite the soft core PCE reading Philadelphia Fed President Plosser who will vote on the FOMC next year indicated that if the economy continues to strengthen he will look for the Fed to cut back on completing the $600 billion quantitative easing (QE) program. Although the tax deal passed by Congress will likely reduce the need for QE3, persistently high unemployment and soft core inflation will likely see the full $600 billion program completed. Today marks the heaviest day for US data this week, with attention turning to November durable goods orders, personal income and spending, jobless claims, final reading of Michigan confidence and November new home sales.

Overall the busy US data slate will likely maintain an encouraging pattern, with healthy gains in income and spending, a rebound in new home sales and the final reading of Michigan confidence likely to hold its gains in December. Meanwhile jobless claims are forecast to match the 420k reading last week, which should see the 4-week average around the 425k mark. This will be around the lowest since August 2008, signifying ongoing improvement in payrolls. The data should maintain the upward pressure on US bond yields, which in turn will keep the USD supported.

Please note that this will be the last post on Econometer.org this year. Seasons greatings and best wishes for the new year to all Econometer readers.

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.

Risk Appetite Puts Dollar On The Back Foot

Markets look somewhat calmer going into this week helped by comments by Fed members who noted that the discount rate hike did not signal a shift in monetary policy, something which is likely to be repeated by Fed Chairman Bernanke in his testimony to Congress on Wednesday and Thursday.  A tame US January CPI report last Friday helped too, giving further support to the view that the Fed will not hike the Fed Funds rate for some time yet; a rate hike this year seems highly unlikely in my view.  

Data this week will be conducive to a further improvement in risk appetite and despite the lingering concerns about Greece the EUR may find itself in a position to extend gains.  In Europe all eyes will be on the February German IFO survey and eurozone sentiment indicators, which following the surprising strength in the manufacturing Purchasing Managers Indices (PMIs), are likely to reveal solid gains. 

The main highlights in Japan this week includes January trade data and industrial production. The trade numbers will be particularly important to determine whether the rebound in exports due in large part to robust Asian demand, has continued whilst the bounce back in exports will be a key factor in fuelling a further gain in industrial output. 

In the US aside from the testimonies by Fed Chairman Bernanke there are plenty of releases on tap including consumer confidence, new and existing home sales, durable goods orders and a likely upward revision to Q4 GDP.  For the most part the data will show improvement and play for a further improvement in risk appetite. 

FX direction will depend on whether markets focus on the potentially positive USD impact of a reduction in USD liquidity or on the likely firmer tone to risk appetite this week.  Given expectations of firmer data and the soothing tone of the Fed, risk currencies will likely perform better, with crosses such as AUD/JPY favoured.  The USD will likely be placed on the back foot, especially given the very long market positioning in the currency.

The EUR will be helped by the fact that speculative market, according to the CFTC IMM data, holds record short positions in the EUR (as of the week ended 16 February) giving plenty of potential for short-covering.   The more timely Tokyo Financial Exchange (TFX) data also reveals that positioning in EUR/JPY has continued to be scaled back.  

CFTC Commitment of Traders (IMM) data – Net EUR speculative positioning

EUR/USD bounced smartly from its lows around 1.3444 on Friday, partly reflecting some short covering and the drop in FX volatility suggests the market is more comfortable with EUR/USD around these levels.  A positive IFO survey and improved risk appetite could see EUR/USD test resistance around 1.3774, its 20 day moving average, over coming days.  Ongoing Greek concerns suggest that any EUR bounce will be limited, however. 

USD/JPY looks well supported and although data this week will suggest that exports are improving despite JPY strength, the relatively more aggressive stance of the Fed compared to the BoJ, long JPY positioning, and improved risk appetite, give plenty of scope for the JPY to extend losses, with technical USD/JPY support seen around 91.28.

%d bloggers like this: