Watching US Yields

Risk assets struggled to make headway last week, with technology stocks stumbling in particular.  Nonetheless, inflows into equities remain strong as more and more retail money is drawn in (perhaps signs of a near term peak).  Asian stocks started the week in positive mood despite last week’s nervousness, but equity investors will continue to keep one eye on the move in US yields.

US Treasuries continued to remain under pressure and the curve continued to bear steepen.  A combination of US fiscal stimulus hopes/expectations, vaccine progress and reduction in COVID cases, appear to be pressuring bonds. President Biden is likely to pass his $1.9 tn stimulus package in the weeks ahead, with a House vote likely this week, while the Fed continues to dampen down of any tapering talk, helping to push inflation expectations as reflected in break-evens, higher.  Indeed, this will likely be the message from a number of Fed speeches this week including Chair Powell testifying before Congress (Tue and Wed). 

Despite higher US nominal and real yields and visibly more nervous equities, the US dollar (USD) continues to struggle, failing to find a trigger to much covering of the massive short USD position still present.  We note that non-commercial FX futures positioning data (CFTC IMM) revealed only a limited reduction in aggregate USD short positions (as a % of open interest) in the latest week. Antipodean currencies led the way at the end of last week, but pound sterling (GBP) speculative positions have seen the biggest bounce over the last couple of weeks. 

Despite the USDs reluctance to rally lately, the short-term bias could shift to a firmer USD sooner rather than later, including against Asian emerging market currencies.  Indeed, several Asian currencies lost ground last week, with the Philippines peso (PHP) and Indonesian rupiah (IDR) leading the way lower.  The Asia USD index (ADXY) appears to have peaked and looks vulnerable to more short-term downside.

US economic data at the end of last week revealed that the flash estimates for the February purchasing managers indices (PMIs) stayed at fairly strong levels for both the manufacturing and services sectors.  Separately, US existing home sales posted stronger-than-expected numbers for January.

Attention this week will be on progress of passage on US fiscal stimulus as well as a number of central bank decisions beginning with China (today), New Zealand (Wed,) Hungary (Wed), and South Korea (Fri).  No policy changes from these central banks are likely.  Also of interest will be the UK’s announcement on exit plans from the current lockdown (today) and Germany’s Feb IFO survey, which is forecast to edge higher. 

US Dollar Sliding, Gold At Record Highs

Risk sentiment has turned south and the US stock rotation out of tech into value has gathered pace, with the Nasdaq ending down for a second straight week.  Gold is turning into a star performer, registering a record high today, while the US dollar continues to lose ground.  Economic activity is slowing, second round virus cases are accelerating in places that had previously flattened the curve, while US- China tensions are heating up.  Attention this week will centre on US fiscal discussions while US-China tensions remain a key focal point.

Reports suggest that Senate Republicans and the US administration have agreed on a $1 trillion coronavirus relief package.  This will be the opening offer in discussions with Democrats (who had passed a $3 trillion package in House in May), with less than a week before unemployment benefits expire.  Whether the $1 trillion on the table will be sufficient to satisfy Democrats is debatable and a figure of around $1.5 trillion looks plausible. Time is running out and pressure to reach a compromise is growing.   Further uncertainty will likely weigh on US markets in the days ahead.

US-China tensions remain a key focus for markets. Worries about a dismantling of the Phase 1 trade deal still looks premature even as China has fallen behind in terms of purchasing US imports.  The closure of the US consulate in Chengdu following the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston will be seen as a proportionate move, that is unlikely to escalate matters.  Nonetheless, a further escalation is inevitable ahead of US elections in November, with a broad array of US administration officials becoming more aggressive in their rhetoric against China.  As such, further sanctions against Chinese individuals and companies could be on the cards.

The week could prove critical for the US dollar given that it is breaching key technical levels against a host of currencies, with the currency failing to benefit from rising risk aversion recently. While not a game changer the European Union “recovery fund” is perceived as a key step forward for the EU, a factor underpinning the euro.  Key data and events over the week include the Federal Reserve FOMC meeting (Wed), US (Thu) and Eurozone Q2 GDP (Fri) and China purchasing managers indices (PMI) (Fri).  US Q2 earnings remain in focus too.  Before these data releases, today attention turns to the German IFO survey (consensus 89.3) and US durable goods orders (consensus 6.8%).

 

What to watch in Europe and Japan this week

European equuty markets ended higher last week shrugging off some disappointing manufacturing and service sector survey readings. The highlight of the Eurozone calendar this week is today’s release of the February German IFO business confidence survey which is expected to register a small increase from the 110.6 reading in January, supporting the message that German growth is consolidating over Q1 14.

Eurozone inflation readings will be important too, with the flash reading of February HICP inflation released at the end of the week set to record another soft reading of 0.7% YoY, supporting the case for further policy easing from the European Central Bank soon.

While the EUR may benefit from a firm IFO reading any gains will be short lived. Soft inflation will help cap gains in the currency especially given the renewed warning this weekend by ECB President Draghi of more policy action if needed.

Elsewhere, data this week will reveal that the main measure of Japanese inflation appears to be peaking around 1%, with core inflation set to decline over coming months. After last week’s softer than expected Q4 GDP reading the pressure on the Bank of Japan for monetary action and in turn a weaker JPY will continue.

Meanwhile, Japan’s job data is expected to reveal that the unemployment rate held steady at 3.7% in January. USD/JPY will remain support around its 100 day moving average at 101.65.

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.

What will the Fed do?

Any market action today will be both tentative in terms of risk taking and limited in terms of direction, ahead of the Fed FOMC decision. Equities pulled back overnight while US Treasuries rose as markets tried to second guess what the Fed will do at its policy meeting. The USD meanwhile appears to have benefitted from some, albeit limited pre FOMC short covering amid thinning year end liquidity. Firmer data, especially in the US jobs market over recent weeks and the recent budget deal have raised the odds of tapering being announced tonight although a move in January still looks more likely.

Whether the Fed takes its foot off the QE pedal tonight or in January is probably a moot point however, as the bottom line is that tapering is very much going to happen and markets will need to adjust sooner rather than later. Ahead of the Fed decision there are some useful data releases on tap which may at least provide some direction including the December German IFO survey which is set to improve slightly, UK jobs data and the Bank of England MPC minutes. No change is likely to be revealed in terms of voting in the MPC minutes.

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