Markets Firm Despite Weak Data and Political Mayhem

Following an eventful (to put it mildly) week in US politics, the main thrust for markets is that the prospects of another sizeable US fiscal stimulus package has increased as Democrats will now take the Senate following the Georgia run-off elections as well as the House and Presidency.  The Blue sweep effectively gives Democrats more potential to pass policies without the constraints of requiring Republican support in the Senate.  That said, the Senate may not be willing to pass significantly more progressive measures given that the seats will be 50/50 for Republicans and Democrats, with the deciding vote coming from VP-elect Harris.

The data/markets dichotomy was once again clear from the weakness in the US December payrolls data on Friday, which revealed a 140,000 drop (consensus +50, 000) as Covid restrictions severely impacted leisure and hospitality jobs.  If anything, this will just add to pressure for more fiscal stimulus. US markets don’t care about soft data or are at least looking past it, with key indices reaching record highs last week led by tech stocks. Stocks and risk assets overall registered a stellar first trading week of the year amid a glut of liquidity even as US Treasury yields pushed higher.  

The US dollar also finally strengthened, gaining some respite amid a market positioned short and despite very negative sentiment.  More gains are likely if the USDs positive relationship with US yields continues to re-establish itself, assuming US Treasury 10 year yields push higher amid further bear steepening as expectations of more fiscal stimulus grow. The same cannot be said for gold prices, which tanked 4% at the end of last week as gold’s negative correlation with US Treasury yields took effect.  Asian currencies and local currency bonds will likely also face headwinds in the near term as the USD consolidates further. 

Aside from steps in the US House towards impeaching President Trump for a second time and any measures announced by the US administration in its final days, markets will focus on US (Wed) and Chinese inflation (tomorrow) data this week.  Both releases are unlikely to provoke any concern about inflation pressures even as market inflation expectations push higher.  Australia (Nov) and US retail sales data (Dec) (both tomorrow) will give some colour on how the consumer is faring.  In this respect US data will likely disappoint.  Other key data and events this week include China trade data (Thu) and rate decisions in Poland (Wed) and Korea (Fri). Chinese trade data is likely to reveal another strong reading for both exports and imports while Poland and Korea policy rates are likely to remain unchanged.

Not quite a Greek tragedy, but close

Not quite a Greek tragedy but getting there. Greece’s announcement of a three-year plan to reduce its burgeoning fiscal deficit has not convinced markets. Greece’s 5-year CDS widened out to around 333bps whilst 10-year sovereign spreads widened further. There has been some contagion in other European countries notably Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Poland etc.

The plan which aims to cut the budget deficit from 12.7% to 2.8% of GDP by the end of 2012 appears to be very optimistic if not unrealistic. One of the main problems is not related to the magnitude of deficit reduction but to the starting point of 12.7% of GDP which is more realistically around 14-15% of GDP.

The deficit is planned to be cut by 4% this year alone which seems tough given the likelihood that the economy will contract this year and thereby increase the cyclical portion of the deficit. However, the major concern is the ability of the Greek authorities to cut nominal wages and pensions and in areas where inefficiency and corruption are widespread, such hospital and defense spending.

Greece needs to convince the European Commission and if the negative reaction by markets is anything to go by it may need further revisions including more drastic spending cuts as well as concrete plans for structural reforms. Greece will also find it difficult to ignore the skeptical market reaction given that the country aims to raise around EUR 54 billion to fund its public debt.

Greek concerns and similar countries elsewhere in Europe will likely act as a major weight on the EUR in the days ahead. Interestingly GBP seems to be a beneficiary. The situation does not appear to have a happy ending in sight and more pain looks likely. Rumours/talk of a Eurozone break-up are likely to intensify, however unrealistic such an event may be. ECB President Trichet dampened speculation in his speech following the ECB meeting that Greece could exit the euro but also confirmed that there would be no special treatment for Greece.

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