Oil Surges, Central Banks Galore

Oil prices jumped following drone attacks on Saudi Arabian oil facilities over the weekend.  Oil rose by around 20% to just shy of $72, before halving its gain later.  Even after failing to hold onto initial gains the rise in oil prices still marks one if its biggest one day gains.  Concerns about reduced oil supply have risen as a result of the attacks as they could reduce Saudi oil production for a prolonged period, with around 5% of global oil supply impacted.  Additionally the attacks could raise geopolitical tensions in the region.

As markets digest the impact of the drone attacks, there will also be several central bank decisions globally to focus on this week.  The main event is the Fed FOMC meeting mid-week, where a 25bp cut is largely priced in by the market.  Given that a rate cut is well flagged markets will pay close attention to the Fed’s summary of economic projections, in particular the Fed’s dot plot.  It seems unlikely that Fed Chair Powell is going to sound too dovish, with little to suggest that the Fed is on path for a more aggressive easing path.

Another major central bank meeting this week is the Bank of Japan (BoJ) on Thursday.  While a policy move by the BoJ at is unlikely this week BoJ policy makers have sounded more open to easing.  A consumption tax hike planned for next month together with a strong JPY have increased the pressure for the BoJ to act. Separately easier policy from other major central banks amid slowing global growth are unlikely be ignored.  However, policy is already ultra- easy and the BoJ remains cognisant of the adverse secondary impact of policy on Japanese Banks.

The Bank of England deliberates on policy this week too but it seems highly unlikely that they would adjust policy given all the uncertainties on how Brexit developments will pan out.  Until there is some clarity, the BoE is likely to remain firmly on hold, with the base rate remaining at 0.75%.  GBP has rallied over recent weeks as markets have stepped back from expectations of a hard Brexit, but this does not mean that a deal is any closer than it has been over the past months.  Elsewhere the SNB in Switzerland and Norges Bank in Norway are also expected to keep policy rates on hold this week.

Several emerging markets central banks will also deliberate on policy this week including in Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia and Taiwan.  The consensus (Bloomberg) expects a 50bp rate cut in Brazil, no change in South Africa and Taiwan and a 25bp rate cut in Indonesia.  Overall many emerging markets continue to ease policy amid slowing growth, lower US policy rates and declining inflation pressures.


Central banks in focus this week

Several central bank decisions are on tap this week including Japan (BoJ), Switzerland (SNB), Norway (Norges Bank), Brazil (BCB) and Thailand (BoT).  Among these only the Norges Bank looks likely to hike rates.

US data is largely second tier this week, with August housing data due for release.  After a run of weak readings a bounce back in starts and existing home sales is expected.   RBA minutes in Australia and NZ Q2 macro data are also in focus.

Political events will garner most attention, with the delayed announcement on China tariffs ($200bn) possible as early as today after being delayed due to the consideration of revisions raised via public comment.  Another twist in the saga is that China is considering declining the US offer of trade talks given the recent Trump threat of fresh tariffs (WSJ).

Other political events include Japan’s LDP election and US trade negotiations (assuming China participates) at the end of the week.   A few Brexit events this week include the General Affairs Council and Informal EU Summit.


CHF under pressure

In sharp contrast to AUD but for the same rationale (improving risk appetite and low volatility) the CHF has succumbed to pressure. Comments this week by Swiss National Bank officials highlighting their resolve to enforce the CHF cap, their belief that the currency is still overvalued, and are prepared to take further steps, highlight that the Swiss authorities wish for a much deeper correction lower in the currency. This is unsurprising as the CHF real effective exchange rate has been on a strengthening path over recent months, much to the likely chagrin of the SNB.

The fact that Swiss CPI inflation dropped back into negative territory on a YoY basis in February reinforces the need to further weaken the currency. Steps such as negative deposit rates and/or FX intervention cannot be ruled out. In the meantime, USD/CHF looks set to test resistance around 0.8930 (26 Feb high).

EUR/CHF still clinging to 1.2000

The job of the Swiss National Bank has become increasingly tougher over recent weeks. Speculation of a Greek exit or ‘Grexit’ and continued flight of capital from Greece as well as other peripheral countries mean that there is more prospect of upside for the CHF than downside versus EUR. The EUR/CHF 1.2000 floor has not deterred investors from parking such capital in CHF, much to the chagrin of the SNB, which has even warned about implementing capital restrictions.

Elevated risk aversion means that inflows of capital to Switzerland from the Eurozone periphery will persist. As a result, EUR/CHF looks set to trade around the 1.2000 floor for some time to come, with the risk that the SNB increasingly has to buy EUR to protect the floor. My forecasts reflect the view that any CHF weakness versus EUR will be extremely gradual in the months ahead as I expect any improvement in risk appetite to be similarly slow.

On the economic front the arguments for CHF weakness have actually lessened. Consumer confidence increased to its highest in a year in April. More importantly from the point of view of the SNB, Switzerland has registered positive CPI readings on a monthly basis for the past three months. Unfortunately, CPI is still negative on an annual basis, meaning that deflationary concerns continue to persist. On balance, the SNB’s fears over deflation will eventually lessen, suggesting in turn that worries about CHF strength will also be pared back.

Although the CHF has remained strong against the EUR it has weakened against the USD, but this is attributable to EUR weakness (due to the EUR/CHF floor) rather than inherent CHF weakness.
It will not be a one-way bet lower against the USD for both the EUR and CHF. The speculative market is highly short both currencies and they could rally in the event of any good news from Greece or the Eurozone. The CHF may also find itself weakening against the EUR if the news is sufficiently good to help stem outflows of capital from Greece and other parts of the Eurozone, but I believe this is unlikely. For the next few weeks at least, ahead of Greek elections, EUR/CHF is set to continue to cling to the 1.2000 floor, with the market set to test the SNB’s resolve.

Euro and Swiss franc under pressure

Positive momentum in risk assets slowed, with higher core bond yields in the US and Europe weighing on sentiment. The USD in particular has been buoyed by higher US bond yields, with the move in line with my long held medium term view of a firmer yield led gain in the USD. Commodity prices in contrast have come under growing pressure, with gold and copper prices sliding in particular. Risk measures continue to improve including my risk barometer, suggesting that the overall tone to risk assets will remain positive.

The main focus today will be on a plethora of US data releases including industrial production, Philly Fed and Empire manufacturing confidence while in Europe attention will be on Spanish and French bond auctions. US data will likely remain upbeat, while the auctions should be well received.

EUR has pulled back sharply over recent not just against the USD but also on the crosses, with EUR/GBP finally playing some catch up yesterday. It’s interesting that the drop in the EUR has occurred despite generally improving conditions for peripheral Eurozone as reflected in narrowing yield spreads between peripheral countries and Germany.

The bottom line is that the EUR is suffering from a widening in the US / Europe (Germany) bond yield differential as it is becoming increasingly clear that the US economy will strongly outperform the Eurozone economy this year. As noted at the beginning of the week EUR/USD was set to drop to below support around 1.3055. Having hit this level, strong support around the 1.2974 level moves into sight.

Ahead of today’s quarterly Swiss National Bank meeting at which no change in policy is widely expected, EUR/CHF has taken a sharp lurch higher, finally moving away from around the 1.2050 level it has been trading at over recent weeks. While I am bearish on the CHF over the medium term further upside in EUR/CHF will be limited over the short term given that the move in the currency is at odds with interest rate differentials which have actually narrowed between the Eurozone and Switzerland. Technical resistance around 1.2298 will cap gains over coming sessions.

As for USD/CHF the picture remains a bullish one, with general USD strength driven by higher yields, pushing the currency pair higher. I look for a test of resistance around 0.9393 over coming sessions.

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