Busy Week Ahead For Central Banks

US equities came under more pressure at the end of last week, with the S&P 500 falling to its lowest in four weeks, down around 2% month to data.  The drop will test the buy on dips mentality as the S&P is once again resting just above its pivotal 55-day moving average, a level that has seen strong buying interest in the past. 

Economic data gave little help to market sentiment, with the University of Michigan confidence index improving a little to 71.0 in early September but falling slightly below consensus expectations at 72.0.  Separately, the inflation expectations measures were broadly unchanged, with the most relevant series for Fed officials (the 5-10y) remaining steady at 2.9%, which is still consistent with the Fed’s 2% goal.

This week is all about central bank meetings, with an array of policy meetings including in Indonesia (Tue), Sweden (Tue), Hungary (Tue), China (Wed), Japan (Wed), US (Wed), Brazil (Thu), Philippines (Thu), UK (Thu), Norway (Thu), Switzerland (Thu), South Africa (Thu), and Taiwan (Fri), all on tap. 

Most focus will obviously be on the Federal Reserve FOMC meeting, during which officials will likely signal that they are almost ready to taper. A formal announcement is likely in December or possibly November.  Most other central banks are likely to stay on hold except a likely 25bp hike in Norway, 25bp in Hungary, and 100bp in Brazil.

Politics will also be in focus, with Canada’s Federal election and the results of Russia’s parliamentary elections today.  Polls suggest the incumbent Liberals ahead though the most likely outcome is a minority government in Canada while in Russia the ruling pro Kremlin United Russia party is likely to renew its supermajority. 

Other issues in focus this week are frictions over the US debt ceiling, with the House voting soon on raising the ceiling.  US Treasury Secretary Yellen renewed her calls for Congress to raise of suspend the debt ceiling stating in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that failing to do so “would produce widespread economic catastrophe”. 

In China, Evergrande’s travails will be in the spotlight on Thursday when interest payments on two of its notes come due amid growing default risks.  Indeed, China related stocks slid on Monday morning as Evergrande concerns spread through the market.  Property developer stocks are under most pressure and whether there is wider contagion will depend on events on Thursday.

The US dollar has continued to strengthen, edging towards its 20 Aug high around 92.729 (DXY) and looks likely to remain firm heading into the Fed FOMC meeting especially as it will hard for Fed Chair Powell to sound too dovish and given risks of a hawkish shift in the dot plot.  Positioning data is showing increasingly positive sentiment towards the dollar, with speculative positioning (CFTC IMM net non-commercial futures) data showing the highest net long DXY position since May 2020. 

Conversely, speculative positioning in Australian dollar has hit a record low likely undermined by weaker iron ore prices.  Similarly, positioning in Canadian dollar is at its lowest since Dec 2020 while Swiss franc positioning is at its lowest since Dec 2019. Asian currencies have been hit, with the ADXY sliding over recent days.  The Chinese currency, CNY has been undermined by weaker data and concerns over Evergrande while high virus cases in some countries are hurting the likes of Thai baht. 

US dollar pull back to prove short lived

Having spent the tail end of last week in Singapore and Phnom Penh presenting the Global outlook for 2014 to clients as part of our Asian roadshow it struck me that there is a strong consensus view about a number of market movements this year. In particular, most expect the USD to strengthen over 2014. Indeed just as it looked as though the USD was going to surge into the new year, along comes the US jobs report to spoil the party. Clearly, it’s not going to be a one way bet in 2014.

The surprisingly weak US December payrolls data in which only 74k jobs were added compared to consensus expectations of close to 200k helped to support expectations that Fed tapering would take place only gradually, lending a helping hand to risk assets at the turn of this week.

I don’t believe the jobs data materially changes the picture for the Fed. Adverse weather may have played a role in the weakness in jobs while complicating matters was the drop in the unemployment rate to 6.7% largely due to around 350,000 people leaving the labour force. The data resulted in a drop in US bond yields and a weaker USD although equity market reaction was more mixed. Meanwhile gold and other commodity prices rose.

While risk assets may find some support in the wake of the jobs report this week much of the US data slate will if anything highlight that economic growth is strengthening, suggesting a reversal of some of the price action in US Treasuries, USD and gold. Data releases include a likely healthy increase in core US retail sales in December together with gains in manufacturing confidence surveys (Empire and Philly Fed) and industrial output as well as a further increase in consumer confidence (Michigan sentiment survey).

Additionally several Fed speakers are on tap over coming days, which may give more colour on Fed thinking in the wake of the jobs report. However, it is doubtful that they will indicate that the Fed will not taper as expected in January.

Clearly markets were caught overly long USDs last week as reflected in CFTC IMM speculative positioning data as of 7th January which showed that net USD long positions had reached their highest since September 2013. The pull back in the USD is set to be short lived, however, especially if US data over coming days reveals further improvement as expected.

USD/JPY in particular bore the brunt of the pull back in US yields, as long positions were unwound. A Japanese holiday today may limit activity but much will depend on the propensity for US yields to bounce back, with 10 year US Treasury yields currently around 2.85% compared to around 2.97% on Friday.

Asian currencies have been the most sensitive to US Treasury yields gyrations over the past three months. In order of sensitivity to US 10 year Treasury yields the highest is the JPY, followed by MYR, THB, PHP and SGD. These currencies would be expected to benefit the most in the wake of the drop in yields at the end of last week although as noted any pull back in US yields is likely to prove temporary. While the THB may suffer from political concerns in the near term the other currencies are likely to see some short term gains.

Cautious start to the year

Happy New Year!

2013 ended with a solid performance by US equities and further pressure on US Treasuries helped by a bigger than expected increase in US December consumer confidence. The S&P 500 ended close to 30% higher over the year while 10 year Treasury yields rose above 3%, registering an overall rise of around 108 basis points over 2013. In contrast commodity prices dropped sharply, with the CRB index recording a sharp drop and ending 5% lower over the year. Meanwhile the USD index ended the year close to where it began although this performance belies some significant volatility over the year, with losses against the EUR and gains against the JPY.

The first trading day of 2014 begins on a more cautious note as a disappointing reading for the December Chinese purchasing managers’ index (51.0 versus 51.2 consensus forecast) will cast a shadow over markets today. Indeed, the data alongside weaker commodity prices will weigh on AUD. Japanese markets will be closed over the rest of the week, while many market participants will not return until next week, suggesting limited activity. Nonetheless, as far as the JPY is concerned the currency is set to remain on the back foot versus USD given the ongoing widening in real yield differentials between the US and Japan.

Meanwhile EUR/USD looks like it will struggle to make much headway over the short term, with only the final reading of the December Eurozone PMI due for release today. The data will likely confirm a relatively healthy looking reading of 52.7, its highest reading since May 2011 but will unlikely provoke much of a market reaction. Instead markets will look ahead to the European Central Bank meeting next week. Recent ECB comments suggest little chance of another rate cut anytime soon despite a very subdued inflationary backdrop. Against this background any EUR slippage in the short term is likely to be limited although further out the relatively inferior Eurozone growth outlook compared to the US, highlights plenty of scope for downside EUR pressure.

Asian currencies will also look somewhat subdued in the wake of China’s softer PMI reading. Additionally a bigger than expected decline in Singapore Q4 GDP release (-2.7% QoQ annualised) will also not bode well although the drop in GDP will be seen as temporary, with official estimates still pointing to growth around 2-4% for 2014. In contrast robust export data from South Korea will be positive for the KRW in line with our view that the currency will be one of 2014’s outperformers along with the TWD and CNH. Elsewhere the THB continues to be hamstrung by political concerns, which are showing little sign of easing ahead of planned elections February 2.

On track for a positive end to the year

A solid revision higher to US Q3 GDP at the end of last week sets up a positive tone for risk assets into year end even as they digest the imminent onset of Fed tapering. The data revealed a revision higher to a 4.1% QoQ annualised pace of growth and if anything lent credence to the Fed’s decision to begin tapering. The GDP data will be followed by a series of positive data releases in the US this week including November personal income and spending and a likely upward revision to December Michigan consumer confidence both on tap today.

Tomorrow, November durable goods orders and next week December Conference Board consumer confidence will also paint a picture of broadening improvement in economic conditions, providing further validation to Fed tapering. Against this background US yields should be well supported along with the USD. Into next year US economic outperformance will continue, leading to both higher US yields and a firmer USD.

A Japanese holiday (Emperor’s birthday) today will dampen market action although Japanese data releases over the rest of the week will highlight further progress on the economic front, with November inflation pushing higher and industrial output expanding at a healthy clip. USD/JPY retained a foot hold above 104 but the large extent of short JPY positioning highlights scope for profit taking. Even so, the rise in US Treasury yields suggest limited downside risks for USD/JPY.

There is on little on tap on the data front in the Eurozone allowing markets to digest the steps towards banking union announced last week. Consequently EUR/USD is set to remain rangebound around 1.3650-1.3750.

There may be more interest in events in China as money market conditions and confidence surveys garner interest. Tight money market conditions will weigh on regional sentiment. A likely decline in both the manufacturing and service sector purchasing managers’ indices will also act to dampen Asian currencies reinforcing the pressure already in place from a broadly stronger USD. News in Thailand that the opposition Democratic Party has decided to boycott the Feb 2 elections will add to political uncertainty and pile more pressure on the THB although the regional underperform remain the IDR.

Overall, a thinning in market conditions as both liquidity and market participants disappear for the holidays imply limited activity over coming days. The fact is that the end of the year will market a solid year for equities and a poorer year for bonds but at least the debate over Fed tapering timing has finally been put to the rest. More of the same is likely next year but notably the growth gap between developed and developing economies will narrow, which at a time of heightened competition for capital amid Fed tapering, suggests that capital flows will increasingly be steered towards developed economies.

Dear readers, this is my last post for 2013. Thank you for taking the time to read my blog posts. I wish all Econometer readers happy holidays, success, prosperity and good health in the year ahead.

Fed pulls the trigger

The guessing game is finally over as the US Federal Reserve took a major step away from the extremely easy policy conditions implemented since the financial crisis by tapering its asset purchases by USD 10 billion, split equally by reduced Treasury and mortgage backed securities purchases. Indeed the Fed finally put markets out of their misery but successfully massaged the market reaction.

The Fed is set to gradually reduce asset purchases over coming months, likely ending its QE program by late 2014. The decision was supported by most Fed officials but to soften the blow the Fed strengthened its forward guidance, helping equity markets to rally while encouraging the short end of the curve.

Conversely Treasuries came under pressure and yields rose, giving a boost to the USD. Markets are likely to digest the news well in the Asian session following the lead from US markets. Nonetheless, while the Fed decision was predicated on stronger growth, the decision will presage a competition for capital especially among emerging markets.

The biggest FX reaction unsurprisingly (given its greater sensitivity to US yields) came from USD/JPY, with the currency breezing past the 104 level. However, given that US yields have not pushed significantly higher in the wake of the Fed tapering decision the boost to the USD will be limited in the short term. Indeed, FX markets will likely digest the Fed news will little reaction both in major and emerging market currencies in the short term.

Further out, the prospects for contrasting policy stances between the Fed, ECB and BoJ imply that the USD will forge higher against the EUR and JPY as well as other major currencies. Meanwhile, highly correlated currencies with US Treasury yields, in particular in the emerging markets spectrum, including INR, TRY, and BRL, will be the most sensitive to an expected rise in US yields over the coming months.

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