Implied volatility on the Japanese yen has been surging in recent weeks following BoJ dovish comments last month. Not only the BoJ has not expressed any interest in normalizing its policy despite the surge in inflation globally, the central bank recently offered to buy an unlimited amount of 10Y JGBs at 0.25% to limit the upside retracement in LT bond yields. As a result, the strong divergence in monetary policy between BoJ and other DM central banks (particularly the Fed) has led to a significant rise in USDJPY.
USDJPY broke above its 125.80 resistance (the high reached in 2015) to reach a high at 129.37 on Tuesday, and is now the worst performing currency among the DM world, down over 10% against the greenback since the start of the year.
JPY is now the most undervalued currency among the G10 world, currently trading 21.3% below its ‘fundamental’ value, which is estimated based on a BEER FX model using the terms of trade, interest rate and inflation differentials as explanatory variables.
Even though the yen appears as a ‘cheap’ currency to buy at the moment, MP divergence could continue to weigh on JPY in the near term. In the past cycle, the last two bullish trends on USDJPY driven by strong MP divergence saw an upward retracement of 20 to 25 figures. Hence, USDJPY could increase to at least 135 (start of the trend at 115), which represents a strong resistance (135 was the high reached in February 2002).
In the past year, we have seen that commodity prices have been constantly reaching new highs despite the significant slowdown in global growth. Part of the slowdown has been coming from the sharp deceleration in Chinese economic activity amid the ‘zero-Covid’ policy that has been strongly weighing on growth expectations. As a result, China ‘fundamental’ indicators, which have historically strongly co-moved with commodity prices, have been significantly diverging from commodity indexes since early 2021 (China indicators show that the economy peaked in February 2021).
For instance, this chart shows that while market uncertainty has kept China 10Y yield close to historical lows, copper prices keep reaching new highs (China represents 50% of the demand for copper).
Two major reasons explaining that divergence are:
Global supply chain disruptions (Covid disruptions, ‘natural disaster’ disruption i.e. South American droughts, and more recently the Ukraine war ‘shock).
Investment narrative, with investors seeking for ‘inflation hedges’ with inflationary pressures soaring globally. Historically, commodities have been the best ‘inflation-hedge’ (particularly oil and nat gas).
Figure 2. China 10Y yield vs. copper prices
The question now is: can the divergence persist if inflation is peaking and is now expected to slowly but gradually decelerate?
Long-term bond yields have been constantly testing new highs globally in the past two years (after finding a low following the Covid-19 shock) as inflationary pressures have been surging, particularly in recent months. While EM central banks (particularly Latam/CEEMEA ex-Turkey) have been hiking aggressively in the past year to tame inflation and limit the downside risk on the local currency, DM central banks have kept interest rates low in order to keep financial conditions as loose as possible to stimulate the economic recovery.
As the Ukraine war combined with the global supply chain disruptions (amid China renewed lockdown policies) will add on to the already existing inflationary pressures, DM central banks are likely to accelerate the tightening process this year, increasing the recession risk (particularly in Europe). The expected aggressive tightening by DM central banks is likely to lead to new highs in LT yields, questioning investors on how far LT bond yields can rise without ‘breaking’ the market.
Figure 1 represents the history of interest rates since the beginning of the 12th century up to today. The data source comes from Homer and Sylla’s book A History of Interest Rates (2005), which reviews interest rate trends in the major economies over four millennia of economic history. For the last 150 years, we compute a GDP-weighted average interest rate times series using a sample of 17 countries (Global LT interest Rate), using data from Jorda et al. paper The Rate of Return on Everything (2017).
Our global measure of LT bond yields is already up 112bps this year to 2.12%, and the historical average of LT bond yields stand between 4 and 5 percent (looking at hundreds of years of data). Will LT interest rates retrace towards their historical mean, or will the ‘deflationary forces’ win again?