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. 

Euro / dollar eyeing 1.40

EURIMM

EUR has continued to push higher over recent weeks and looks well supported as inflows into European assets continues unabated. Although speculative EUR positioning continues to move higher above its 3-month average, suggesting that positioning is becoming a little more stretched, sentiment for the EUR remains firm. The ECB’s decision last week to refrain from any policy easing while not hinting at any easing in the pipeline, suggests that EUR/USD will remain a buy on dips on any decline to support around 1.3775. A test of strong psychological resistance around 1.4000 cannot be ruled out over coming sessions.

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Gold breaches its 200 day moving average

AUDjobsGold prices have risen sharply since the beginning of the year, up over 8% year to date. Higher risk aversion, lower US yields and a weaker USD have boosted gold. Consequently gold prices are trading around their 200 day moving average level around 1303.70. This could prove significant, with a close above the 200 day moving average important to sustain any short term uptrend,

Encouraging signs for gold bulls
ETF investor demand appears to have stabilised over recent weeks while CTFC IMM demand appears to be picking up. This data suggests that Investors are tentatively moving back into gold. The poor performance of equity markets since the start of the year has indeed made gold look more attractive as an investment while lower yields mean that the opportunity cost of holding gold has lessened.

Chinese demand for gold increases sharply
Additionally gold demand from China has picked up strongly. China Gold Association data showed that Chinese demand for gold jumped 41% to 1,176 tonnes last year. Chinese demand likely overtook India’s last year. Oddly Chinese import and production data were even stronger, making it possible that China bolstered its reserves with gold last year.

Indian restrictions hit demand
India restricts demand for gold via import restrictions. However, there is a lot of pressure domestically to remove these restrictions and a review is scheduled to take place at the end of the fiscal year at end March 2014. If these restrictions are removed or at the least weakened, Indian gold imports could increase sharply but it seems unlikely that imports will rise as strongly as previous years.

Moreover, the Indian government will want to avoid an adverse impact on India’s current account deficit, suggesting that a complete removal of gold import restrictions is unlikely. However, in the meantime the restrictions are having a major impact on Indian gold demand which dropped sharply last year.

Gold rally to fade
Risk appetite has already improved sharply over February and while I continue to expect bouts of volatility in the weeks and months ahead I do not expect to see sustained periods of elevated risk aversion. Therefore any boost to gold from rising risk aversion is set to prove temporary in the months ahead.

Secondly global inflation pressures remain well contained. Inflation for the major economies is likely to remain benign. Only in Japan is inflation expected to pick up but this is an aim of policy and is not expected to result in a bout of gold buying to hedge against such inflation risks. Therefore, gold demand as an inflation hedge will not take place.

Two major drivers of the gold price are US bond yields and the US dollar. Both are highly correlated with gold price gyrations, with gold falling as US yields and the USD rise and vice-versa. Both yields and the USD are set to rise over the coming months. Consequently any short term gold price gains are unlikely to hold, with the metal set to resume its decline.

US dollar speculative positioning had increased prior to its sell off

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Risk and carry attraction increasing

The outcome of the EU Summit together with hopes of monetary stimulus has definitely helped to put a floor under risk appetite. Indeed, such monetary stimulus expectations are reflected in the price of gold which continued to rise overnight. Risk assets in general have maintained a positive tone recently and even forward looking indicators of global activity such as the Baltic Dry Index have been trending higher.

Although it is difficult to become too positive given the still very significant downdraft to global growth officials in Europe have bought some time to get their collective house back in order. Whether they will use it wisely is another question entirely. It is difficult to see much of a market move ahead of the ECB Council meeting and US June jobs report this week. Moreover, the US Independence Day holiday will keep trading subdued today.

My Risk Barometer has moved back into ‘risk neutral’ territory following several weeks of remaining in ‘risk hating’ territory. Consequently the backdrop for risk currencies has turned positive. Although FX trading has become more subdued amid summer conditions and a US holiday today as reflected in the drop in implied volatilities, there is a clear sense that investors are increasingly moving into carry trades.

My Yield Appetite Index {YAI) has surged over recent weeks, now at its highest in several months. I remain concerned that markets are addicted to stimulus while underlying economic conditions remain weak as likely revealed in today’s releases of June service sector purchasing managers’ indices in Europe.

Nonetheless, it seems likely according to my risk measures that the current tone of risk / carry attraction will persist for some weeks to come. The currencies that will benefit in an environment of improving risk appetite / yield attraction are the ZAR, MXN, PLN, CAD & NOK by order of magnitude of correlation with our risk barometer.

However, the beneficiaries are by no means limited to these currencies. Almost every currency except the ARS and PHP has a statistically significant correlation with the risk barometer. The only currencies that come under pressure as risk appetite improves are the USD and JPY given their negative correlations.

Currencies with healthy carry such as the AUD, which broke above its 200 day moving average versus USD overnight, will be even bigger beneficiaries as investors pile into carry trades over coming weeks as indicated by the jump in our YAI.

Notably there is plenty of scope to build carry positions as our speculative measure of yield attraction (based on CFTC IMM data) remains relatively low, suggesting that leveraged investors have still not jumped on the carry bandwagon.

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