Host Of Central Banks In Focus

Well, last week, tech stocks had their worst week since March, with stability far from returning.  While the jury is still out, most still view the pull back in tech stocks as a healthy correction following a prolonged period of gains, blaming increased options activity over recent months for the magnitude of the decline. The buy on dip mentality is likely to continue to prevail, though tech stocks have not yet show any sign of wanting to make a convincing pull back.   

Signs of nervousness are clear; equity volatility remains elevated, but many investors are still sitting on healthy gains over recent months.  Given the low cost of funding, low returns in government bonds, alongside continued strong demand for stay at home electronics and a vaccine that could still take months to arrive, it is hard to see the tech sector falling too far.   

The fall in the pound sterling has been quite dramatic over recent weeks, both against the US dollar and euro.  Fears over a collapse in trade talks with the European Union have intensified.  The sudden waking up of the market to these risks has been provoked by the prospects that the withdrawal agreement with the EU will be torn up, prompting threats of legal action by the EU.

Time is running out to get a deal on the table before the end of the Brexit transition period at the end of the year, but UK Prime Minister Johnson has said that the internal market bill is necessary to prevent “a foreign of international body from having the power to break up our country.” The new legislation is already facing a rebellion in parliament. Against this background its hard to see GBP rally, with the currency likely to be particularly volatile over the coming weeks.

Attention this week will turn to several central bank decisions, with monetary policy makers in Poland (Tue), US (Wed), Brazil (Wed), Japan (Thu), Indonesia (Thu), Taiwan (Thu), South Africa, (Thu), UK (Thu) and Russia (Fri) all scheduled to announce their decisions.  After months of policy easing globally, this week will look rather boring, with none of the above likely to ease further.   

The Fed FOMC meeting will likely capture most attention, but there is potential for disappointment if the Fed does not provide further details on its shift to average inflation targeting in its forward guidance, even as the accompanying statement and Chair Powell’s press conference are likely to sound dovish. The US dollar has continued to stabilize, aided by the drop in GBP, but a dovish Fed could limit further upside in the short term. 

Aside from central bank decisions attention will be on US election polls, which take on more importance as the election creeps closer.  US fiscal stimulus talks have hit a wall, with little chance of progress this week, while US pressure on China and Chinese companies is likely to continue to be unrelenting as elections approach.  On the political front the race to take over Japan’s prime minister following the resignation of Shinzo Abe will conclude this week (Wed).   

Bonds Under Pressure, UK Parliament Rejects Election Again

Market sentiment remains positive as hopes of a US-China trade deal continue to provide a floor under risk sentiment amid hopes that the escalation in tariffs can be reversed.  Weak Chinese trade data over the weekend has largely been ignored and instead markets have focused on further stimulus unleashed by China in the wake of the cut in its banks’ reserve ratios, which freed up around USD 126bn in liquidity to help shore up growth.  Expectations that the European Central Bank (ECB) will this week provide another monetary boost by lowering its deposit rates and embarking on a fresh wave of quantitative easing, are also helping to support risk sentiment though a lot is already in the price in terms of ECB expectations.

One of the casualties of the turn in sentiment has been bonds, with yields rising in G10 bond markets.  For example US 10 year yields have risen by around 18 basis points since their low a week ago.   The US dollar has also come under pressure, losing ground in particular to emerging market currencies over the past week.  Safe haven currencies such as the Japanese yen (JPY) and Swiss franc (CHF) have fared even worse.   As I noted last week I think the bounce in risk appetite will be short-lived, but how long is short?  Clearly markets anticipate positive developments in US-China trade talks, and it seems unlikely that risk appetite will deteriorate ahead of talks, at least until there is some clarity on the discussions.  Of course a tweet here or there could derail markets, but that is hard to predict.

Sterling (GBP) has been another currency that has benefited from USD weakness, but also from growing expectations that the UK will not crash out of the EU without a deal.  Developments overnight have done little to provide much clarity, however.  UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson failed in his bid for an early election on October 15, with MPs voting 293 in favour of an election against 46 opposed;  Johnson required two-thirds or 434 MPs to support the motion.  Johnson is now effectively a hostage in his own government unable to hold an election and legally unable to leave without a deal.  Parliament has been suspended until October 14, with Johnson stating that he will not delay Brexit any further, reiterating that he is prepared to leave the EU without an agreement if necessary.

This would effectively ignore legislation passed into law earlier blocking a no-deal Brexit forcing the PM to seek a delay until 31 Jan 2020. Separately parliament passed a motion by 311 to 302 to compel Downing Street to release various documents related to no-deal Brexit planning, but officials are so far resisting their release.  A lack of progress in talks with Irish PM Varadkar in Dublin on Monday highlights the challenges ahead.  GBP has rallied following firmer than expected Gross Domestic Product data (GDP) yesterday and growing hopes that the UK will be prevented from crashing out of the EU at the end of October, but could the currency could be derailed if there is still no progress towards a deal as the deadline approaches.

 

Currency frictions

I would like to apologise for the lack of posts over the last couple of weeks. I have been on a client roadshow presenting our macro and markets outlook for 2013 to clients across Asia. Having returned the mood of the markets is clearly bullish as risk assets rally globally. Recovery hopes are intensifying as tail risk is diminishing while central banks continue to keep their monetary levers fully open.

A heavy slate of US data releases this week will keep markets busy but overall I see little to dent the positive tone to risk assets over coming sessions. The main events this week include the US January jobs report (forecast +160k) and Fed FOMC meeting (no change likely) while consumer and manufacturing confidence, Q4 GDP and December durable goods orders are also on tap.

In the Eurozone attention will focus less on data but more on Eurozone banks’ balance sheets, with further capital inflows likely to be revealed, marking another positive development following last week’s strong payback of LTRO funds. Elsewhere, industrial production in Japan is likely to reveal a healthy gain while an interest rate decision in New Zealand (no change likely) will prove to be a non event.

As fiscal and monetary stimulus measures are largely becoming exhausted or at least delivering diminishing returns the next policy push appears to be coming from the currency front. The issue of ‘currency war’ is once again doing the rounds in the wake of Japan’s more aggressive stance on the JPY leading to growing friction in currency markets.

In contrast the easing of Eurozone peripheral strains have boosted the EUR, in turn resulting in a sharp and politically sensitive move higher in EUR/JPY. Central banks globally are once again resisting unwanted gains in their currencies, a particular problem in emerging markets as yield and risk searching capital flows pick up. Expect the friction over currencies to gather more steam over the coming weeks and months.

In the near term likely positive news in the form of large capital inflows into Eurozone peripheral banks and sovereign bond markets will keep the EUR buoyed. The USD in contrast will be restrained as US politicians engage in battle over the looming budget debate and spending cuts despite the move to extend the debt ceiling until May.

GBP has slid further and was not helped by the bigger than expected drop in Q4 GDP revealed last week which in turn suggests growing prospects of a ‘triple dip’ recession. The lack of room on the fiscal front implies prospects for more aggressive Bank of England monetary policy especially under the helm of a new governor and in turn even greater GBP weakness.

Euro gives up its gains, GBP tracks lower

Although attention may briefly turn to the Fed FOMC outcome tomorrow the lack of progress to resolve’s Europe’s crisis threatens to inflict much more severe damage onto global markets. Against this background the European summit at the end of the week will be particularly important but the scope for disappointment remains high.

As with news of Spain’s banking bailout the positive EUR reaction to the Greek elections has faded even more quickly than I anticipated. EUR/USD’s inability to build on gains above 1.2700 despite extreme short market positioning, highlights the lack of confidence in resolving the crisis. EUR/USD appears to be increasingly following the moves in peripheral bond spreads and the news here is not good either especially in Spain, with spreads continuing to widen out.

The G20 communiqué offered no support to the EUR, with little by way of concrete measures while Germany continues to stick to its stance of no renegotiation of Greece’s bailout terms. The EU finance ministers summit in a couple of days time may provide some relief but only if concrete measures are outlined. In the meantime EUR/USD will continue to remain under pressure. As noted yesterday, I look for a test of EUR/USD 1.2515 which could happen as early as today.

Considering that the prospects of a further round of Bank Of England quantitative easing has grown as hinted at by BoE Governor King, GBP has shown some resilience. Indeed, it is not clear that GBP will weaken if and when the BoE expands its balance sheet again. My analysis reveals that the reaction of GBP has been mixed both to the announcement and implementation of asset purchases.

Inflation data will provide some clues to the room for further monetary stimulus while the minutes of the last MPC meeting two weeks ago will provide some inkling of the support within the Committee for fresh QE. CPI is likely edge higher but this will be due to seasonal factors, while the minutes will likely reveal two dissenters.

GBP meanwhile, will continue to track the EUR with the currency pair trading in a 0.80-0.81 range. EUR’s drop overnight has taken the wind out of GBP’s sails, but strong technical support will be found around GBP/USD 1.5601.

Euro on the front foot

The G20 meeting of leaders in Mexico over the weekend did not make much progress in terms of increasing the size of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or increasing support for the Eurozone. A decision on this has been delayed until the next meeting on 19-20 April. Instead attention has turned to the various bailout votes across Eurozone countries and discussions over increasing the firewall (by boosting the size of the bailout fund) around the Eurozone periphery. Germany continues to oppose any increase in the firewall. Sentiment will hinge this week on the outcome of these events rather than data releases.

The USD has come under growing pressure but this is as reflection of a stronger EUR rather than inherent USD weakness. Data releases in the US have continued on a positive track yet the USD has failed to benefit as higher US bond yields have been matched elsewhere. Business and consumer confidence measures over coming days are also likely to reveal some encouraging outcomes while the Beige Book will report improvement in economic activity but the USD will continue to be restrained.

The EUR is looking increasingly stretched from a fundamental perspective yet technical indicators show it to be on a stronger footing. EUR/USD will find strong resistance around the 1.3550 level and the currency could still stumble over coming days depending on the outcome of Wednesday’s ECB Longer term refinancinf operation (LTRO).

Various policy events will also help dictate EUR direction including national parliamentary votes on the Greek bailout and the EU Summit. Theoretically a large uptake by banks at the LTRO could result in more EUR liquidity and a weaker EUR but the reality is quite different. Improved sentiment in peripheral bond markets as LTRO funds are used to buy local debt are helping the EUR to push higher, with its short covering rally gaining more traction.

GPB has come under pressure in the wake of a stronger EUR, but we still expect EUR/GBP’s charge to falter. My quantitative models show that the currency pair is overbought and we will likely struggle to break above 0.85. If it does, EUR/GBP 0.8562 will prove to be a strong resistance level. UK data this week will likely give some support to GBP, with the manufacturing purchasing managers index (PMI) set to strengthen further. However, the release of a relatively dovish set of Bank of England (BoE) Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) minutes has helped to undermine GBP for the time being, meaning that any recovery will be limited in the near term.

%d bloggers like this: