Everything But The Kitchen Sink

Since my last post there has been an even bigger onslaught of fiscal and monetary stimulus measures globally in an attempt to combat the devasting health and economic impact of COVID-19.  Fiscal stimulus in the US will amount to over 10% of GDP while the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet is set to grow further from an already large $6+ trillion at present as the Fed throws everything but the kitchen sink to combat the impact of the virus. There is already preparations underway for another phase of fiscal stimulus in the US.

Europe meanwhile, has struggled to agree upon a package given divisions between the North and South of the region, but eventually agreed upon EUR 500bn worth of fiscal stimulus while the ECB is undertaking renewed asset purchases in a new quantitative easing programme.  Many other countries have stepped up their efforts too.  All of this will provide an invaluable cushion, but will not prevent a massive economic downturn, nor will it stop the virus from spreading.

Markets have attempted to look past the growing economic risks, spurred by data showing that in many countries the rate of growth of coronavirus cases has slowed, including in those with a substantial number of deaths such as Italy and Spain.  Even in New York, which has been the epicentre of COVID-19 infections in the US, there are positive signs though it is an ominous sign that the US has now recorded the most deaths globally.

This move towards flattening of the curve has fuelled hopes that many countries will soon be able to emerge from lock downs.  In China, which was first in, most of the manufacturing sector has opened up, while there has even been some relaxation of measures to constrain movement of people.  The net result of all of the above last week, was the biggest weekly rally in US stocks since 1974.

While the 25%+ rally in US equities since their lows is reflecting this optimism, there is a major risk that this is a bear market rally given the risks ahead.  Economic growth estimates continue to be revised lower and the IMF’s revised forecasts scheduled to be published this week are likely to show a global economy on the rails, with growth likely to be at its worst since the Great Depression according to the IMF’s Managing Director.  Emerging markets, which do not have anywhere near the firepower or health systems of developed economies are particularly at risk.

At the same time earnings expectations have yet to reflect the massively negative impact on corporate profits likely in the months ahead; Q1 earnings to be released in the days ahead will be closely watched.  Not only are earnings expectations likely to be revised substantially lower, but many companies will simply not survive and many of those that do could end up in state hands if they are important enough.  Separately there is a risk that shutdowns last longer than expected or once economies begin to open up there another wave of infections.  These risk have not yet been fully appreciated by markets unfortunately.

Green light for a break of USD/JPY 100

Growth concerns came back to the fore in the wake of disappointing releases in the US and China as well as a downward revision to global growth forecasts by the International Monetary Fund. Data releases this week will not do much to allay growth fears. Although the advance reading of Q1 US GDP is likely to reveal a firm 3% QoQ annualised outcome the momentum in the US economy clearly tailed off towards the end of the quarter as more forward looking data releases attest to. The US and global economy is likely to pick up steam as the year progresses but admittedly recent data releases point to a similar pattern as recent years of firm Q1 activity followed by weakness later.

Meanwhile in Europe, purchasing managers’ indices and the German IFO business sentiment survey will show some further moderation, while credit conditions remain constrained indicating a downbeat outlook over the rest of the year. Consequently pressure for a policy rate cut from the European Central Bank is likely to intensify, with a cut likely by the end of this quarter. EUR/USD continues to trade above its 1.3001 technical support level but momentum is fading. Weaker economic data this week will likely undermine the EUR further.
Following last week’s strong volatility in commodity and gold prices in particular some stability is likely over coming days, with gold retracing some of its losses and regaining the USD 1400 level. Equity markets finished the week in firmer mood after falls earlier in the week but the plethora of US Q1 earnings scheduled over coming days will help to determine whether the gains can be held. So far earnings have beaten expectations on balance, but notably expectations have been fairly low in the first place.

There was plenty of attention on currencies at the G20 meeting but the final outcome left the door open to further JPY weakness while the communiqué highlighted the “unintended negative side effects” for easier monetary policy. Although this was a veiled warning about potential build up of asset price bubbles as central banks ease policy, it is unlikely to sway the Bank of Japan from accelerating its balance sheet expansion. Aside from a probable breach of USD/JPY 100 there is unlikely to be much follow through from the G20 meeting this week.

Bernanke eyed for QE clues

Range trading is likely to dominate. However, the news flow remains negative, with disappointing retail sales data in the US combined with more the decision by the German constitutional court to delay its decision on the ESM bailout fund until September 12, highlighting the lack of potential for any rally in risk assets in the near term.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) provided markets with a further dose of caution, with its warning that risks to global growth “loom large” as it cut its forecasts for global growth. Pressure on policy makers to provide more stimulus will grow, but the room for and efficacy of such stimulus is questionable.

The weaker than expected June US retail sales report released yesterday has resulted in fuelling expectations that Fed Chairman Bernanke will announce a shift towards more quantitative easing later today. Consequently the USD has come under pressure losing ground so far this week.

While the USD is set to be restrained ahead of Bernanke’s speech to the Senate we do not believe he will announce a change in stance. Therefore, any USD weakness is likely to prove temporary in the short term. The inability of risk appetite to improve further and the ongoing uncertainties in the Eurozone reinforce the view that the USD’s downside will be limited.

Today’s US releases are likely to reveal gains in June industrial production, and a likely strengthening in long term capital flows in May, factors that will help to provide the USD with further support.

Although the EUR has bounced this week data today will only serve to reinforce its overall downward trajectory. The July German ZEW survey is set to decline further. The range of forecasts for this volatile survey is wide between -10 to -30, with our forecast towards the lower end.

The plethora of negative news in terms of policy progress continues to dampen sentiment and hamper the EUR’s ability to recover. Whether its persistent downgrades of economic growth across Eurozone countries, stalling of reforms and austerity plans, or delays in implementing agreed upon measures, the news is unambiguously bad.

Dashed hopes of progress towards finding and implementing solutions have led to a renewed deterioration in speculative appetite for EUR. Although the potential for short covering remains high, the trigger for any short covering is decidedly absent. We maintain the view that EUR/USD will test 1.2000 over coming weeks.

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.

AUD risks, CHF speculation, CAD upside

News that the IMF revised up its global growth forecasts, decent demand for a Spanish bill auction and a stronger than expected reading in the April German ZEW investor confidence survey helped to calm market nerves overnight. Some solid US Q1 earnings also supported equities too.

Weaker readings for US industrial production and housing starts were largely ignored. Hopes of an expansion of IMF funds were boosted by the news that Japan will be provide an extra $60 billion. High beta currencies rallied overnight but notably the EUR failed to register gains despite a narrowing in peripheral Eurozone bond yields.

AUD has undergone some major gyrations. The boost from by a strong jobs report last week was quickly undone by a relatively dovish set of RBA minutes, which appeared to confirm the view that a rate cut would take place in May. Of course, as the RBA pointed out the April 24 Q1 inflation report would be essential to provide the final clues to the rate decision.

As a rate cut is already priced in, an upside inflation surprise may actually result in a bounce in the AUD but any positive impetus will have to contend with a more fragile risk environment, yesterday’s risk rally not withstanding. AUD is one of the most highly sensitive currencies to risk aversion and bounced overnight as risk appetite improved but we suspect the risk rally will fade in the short term putting the AUD under renewed downward pressure.

EUR/CHF continues to track the 1.20 ‘line in the sand’ closely, but rumours of a shift in the floor continue to do the rounds. Swiss officials have not confirmed such speculation but have highlighted the impact of a strong CHF in fuelling deflation pressures. The case for a move higher in the CHF ceiling is therefore quite high, but the cost could also be high if speculators test the resolve of the Swiss authorities.

Although the Swiss economy continues to suffer it appears that the pain of a strong CHF is lessening slightly although not enough to ease concerns about the strength of the currency. The March KoF Swiss leading indicator revealed a second straight increase, albeit from a low level. Further gains may be limited however, given the ongoing downward pressure emanating from weaker growth in the Eurozone.

The Bank of Canada left policy rates unchanged at 1% but the accompanying statement appeared to pave the way for higher interest rates. Consequently expectations of rate hikes have been brought forward, with the CAD rallying due to its strong correlation with interest rate differentials. Firmer commodity prices also helped to boost CAD.

Our quantitative models show scope for further CAD gains over the short term, suggesting more gains ahead. Further direction will come from the BoC Monetary Policy Report today, with USD/CAD setting its sights on a test of technical support around 0.9766 in the near term.

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