Catching a falling knife

After a very long absence and much to the neglect to Econometer.org I am pleased to write a new post and apologise to those that subscribed to my blog, for the very long delay since my last post.   There is so much to say about the market turmoil at present, it is almost hard not to write something.

For those of you with eyes only on the continued strength in US stocks, which have hit record high after record high in recent weeks, it may be shocking news to your ears that the rest of the world, especially the emerging markets (EM) world, is in decidedly worse shape.

Compounding the impact of Federal Reserve rate hikes and strengthening US dollar, EM assets took another blow as President Trump’s long threatened tariffs on China began to be implemented.  Investors in countries with major external vulnerabilities in the form of large USD debts and current account deficits took fright and panic ensued.

Argentina and Turkey have been at the forefront of pressure due the factors above and also to policy inaction though Argentina has at least bit the bullet. Even in Asia, it is no coincidence that markets in current account deficit countries in the region, namely India, Indonesia, underperformed especially FX.  Even China’s currency, the renminbi, went through a rapid period of weakness, before showing some relative stability over recent weeks though I suspect the weakness was largely engineered.

What next? The plethora of factors impacting market sentiment will not just go away.  The Fed is set to keep on hiking, with several more rate increases likely over the next year or so.  Meanwhile the ECB is on track to ending its quantitative easing program by year end; the ECB meeting this Thursday will likely spell out more detail on its plans.  The other major central bank that has not yet revealed plans to step back from its easing policy is the Bank of Japan, but even the BoJ has been reducing its bond buying over past months.

The trade war is also set to escalate further.  Following the $50bn of tariffs already imposed on China $200 billion more could go into effect “very soon” according to Mr Trump. Worryingly he also added that tariffs on a further $267bn of Chinese goods could are “ready to go on short notice”, effectively encompassing all of China’s imports to the US.  China has so far responded in kind. Meanwhile though a deal has been agreed between the US and Mexico, a deal encompassing Canada in the form a new NAFTA remains elusive.

Idiosyncratic issues in Argentina and Turkey remain a threat to other emerging markets, not because of economic or banking sector risks, but due increased contagion as investors shaken from losses in a particular country, pull capital out of other EM assets.  The weakness in many emerging market currencies, local currency bonds and equities, has however, exposed value.  Whether investors want to catch a falling knife, only to lose their fingers is another question. which I will explore in my next post.

USD/JPY volatility at an extreme low

USD/JPY will continue to struggle to break higher in the short term, with the currency pair restrained by capped US yields. Indeed US Treasury yields have slipped over recent days. The range bound trading pattern for USD/JPY has resulted in a declining trend in both implied and realized volatility. The drop in volatility has been particularly sharp, with 1 month volatility at an extreme level according to our z-score analysis.

The implication is that it is cheap to USD/JPY volatility although it may need a trigger from a further increase in US yields and / or major improvement in risk appetite to spur an increase in volatility. Comments by the Bank of Japan’s Iwata yesterday that its not necessarily good if the JPY keeps depreciating is not conducive for higher volatility in the currency pair but likely further stimulus from the BoJ alongside wider yield differentials with the US, will mean that downward JPY pressure will resume soon at a more rapid pace in the months ahead.

USD/JPY bracing for a rebound

In the post below I look at the arguments for JPY weakness in the weeks and months ahead.

A combination of elevated risk aversion and a narrowing US / Japan yield differential have been the major contributors to the strengthening in the JPY over January resulting in safe haven JPY demand and repatriation flows. The sensitivity of the JPY to both factors has been especially strong and it will require a reversal of one if not both of these to spur another wave of JPY selling.

Improving risk appetite required
If there is not a metamorphosis of the current bout of pressure into a full blown crisis as seems likely, risk appetite will improve and the upward pressure on the JPY will abate. Any improvement in risk appetite will however, be gradual and prone to volatility, especially in an environment of Fed tapering. It may therefore require more than simply improving risk appetite to weaken the JPY anew.

Japanese equity performance will be eyed
Of course associated with any improvement in risk appetite has to be a reversal of the recent negative performance of Japanese equities. Although Japanese equities will continue to be hostage to the fortunes of global risk sentiment, assuming that “Abenomics” continues to deliver results and growth in Japan continues to pick up (our forecast this year is 2% YoY GDP growth) further fallout in the Japanese equity market may be limited.

Flows will need to reverse
Over the past several weeks Japan has registered net inflows of capital in large part due to repatriation by Japanese investors. JPY has faced upward pressure from such inflows over recent weeks. Looking ahead assuming that risk appetite improves and US yields increase net capital outflows are expected to resume, which will put further downward pressure on the JPY.

Yield differentials will be particularly important
The extra dose of JPY pressure and important determinant of renewed weakness will be a re-widening of the US / Japan real yield differential. Eventually US bond yields will resume their ascent, driving the yield differential with Japan wider, and putting upward pressure on USD/JPY. The same argument will apply for EUR/JPY, albeit to a lesser degree.

Speculation positioning more balanced
The recent short covering rally has likely resulted in a market more evenly balanced in terms of positioning, providing a solid footing for the next leg lower in JPY. Indeed, compared to the three month average, JPY positioning has bounced back and is susceptible to a rebuilding of JPY shorts over coming weeks, driving the JPY lower.

Model points to renewed JPY weakness
Combining the factors above (except positioning) and adding in forecasts for US bond yields, risk aversion and conservative estimates for a recovery in Japanese equity markets over coming months, my quantitative model for USD/JPY highlights the prospects of a major rebound in the currency pair.

Highlights this week

Better than expected Chinese data over the weekend, speculation that Greece is close to reaching its debt buyback target and even some signs of progress in reaching a resolution to avert the fiscal cliff set up risk assets for a generally positive start to the week. Talks between the administration and senior Republicans will continue this week but it appears that some senior Republicans are willing to give up their objections to tax hikes on the very wealthy.

The November US jobs report released at the end of last week which revealed a 146k increase in payrolls and a drop in the unemployment rate to 7.7% is likely to have little influence at the turn of the week. The report was met with a muted reaction. While on the face of it the data was better than expected, downward revisions to past months and a surprising lack of impact from Hurricane Sandy left markets somewhat perplexed.

However, not everything is rosy. Last week’s sharp downward growth revisions to Eurozone growth by the European Central Bank (ECB), a plunge in US consumer sentiment and comments from Italian Prime Minister Monti that he intends to resign will cast a shadow over markets, restraining any upside.

Although activity will likely continue to thin as holidays approach there is still plenty too chew on this week. In the US the Fed is set to continue purchasing USD 85 billion of longer dated securities following the end of Operation Twist but this should come as little surprise to the market and therefore will yield little reaction. There will be some encouraging news on the consumer as retail sales bounce back in November.

Across the pond the European Council meeting beginning on Thursday will be in focus, with banking union and bank recapitalisation among the topics up for discussion. Given the hint of monetary easing by the ECB markets will scrutinise upcoming data for the timing but a likely increase in the German ZEW investor confidence survey in December and stabilisation in the Eurozone composite purchasing manager’s index will not prove compelling enough to warrant an imminent rate cut.

Elsewhere in Japan the upcoming elections will mark the highlight of the calendar over the weekend although the weaker than expected Q3 GDP reading this morning (-0.9% QoQ) and expected deterioration in the Tankan survey later in the week will maintain the pressure for more aggressive policy action and a weaker JPY.

EUR took a hit from the ECB’s dovish stance last week and will not take too kindly to the news of Monti’s intended resignation after the fiscal 2013 budget in Italy. EUR/USD 1.2880 still marks a solid support level for the currency.

USD/JPY continues to probe higher but extreme short market positioning will likely limit the ability of the currency pair to push higher. On the topside 83.15 will market strong resistance for the currency pair.

AUD and NZD look generally well supported, with Chinese data over the weekend giving further support although for AUD/USD 1.0519 will continue to act a tough technical barrier to crack.

Putting the brakes on the CNY

Markets are becoming increasingly headline driven, with risk appetite gyrating on any fresh lead on fiscal cliff developments. Initially risk assets dropped in the wake of weaker than expected US new home sales data and renewed fiscal cliff concerns but reversed course following more encouraging comments from US House speaker Boehner and President Obama who both indicated that a deal was moving closer to fruition. The comments also sparked a drop in the USD while gold prices came under pressure.

Meanwhile, Eurozone peripheral bond spreads continue to tighten in the wake of the Greek debt deal as tail risks continue to decline. An Italian debt auction may test the market’s new found confidence today. Incidentally the deal will be put to the vote tomorrow in Germany. Data releases are generally taking a back seat to fiscal cliff developments but once again there will be stark contrasts between Europe and the US, with weakening economic sentiment indicators in Europe on the one hand and an upward revision to US Q3 GDP on the other.

Currencies will continue to track the gyrations in risk, but in large part remain in well defined ranges. EUR/USD reversed its losses as fiscal cliff resolution hopes grew but will struggle on the top side. Comments by Moody’s in its credit review on Greece released this morning will also dent EUR sentiment with the ratings agency noting that Greek debt remains unsustainable even after the country’s debt deal. EUR/USD resistance is seen around 1.3023 while support around 1.2870 is expected to hold over the near term.

USD/JPY pushed back above the 80.00 level overnight but I would prefer to sell the currency pair on any run up to 82.50. While weak data such as the bigger than expected decline in October retail sales (-1.2% YoY) highlight the need for more aggressive policy, the “Abe” effect has largely been discounted and markets may wait for elections on December 16 before deliberating on further JPY direction. Ultimately I remain JPY bears but in the near term the up move looks overextended.

China has put the brakes on the CNY as fixings have been less strong over recent days. Given the strong correlation with many other Asian currencies this is resulting in more restraint across the Asian FX spectrum. The most impacted currencies will be the KRW and TWD, as they possess the highest sensitivities to CNY. A slowing in the pace of portfolio inflows, with notably South Korea and Indonesia seeing outflows of equity capital over the month, will also restrain Asian currencies.

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