Great Chart: Italy EPU Index vs. 10Y Bond Yield

The recent results in Italian’s election held on March 4th wasn’t really a surprise for market participants, with EURUSD barely moving (the pair is actually up 2.5 figures over the past week) and the 5Y CDS spread (vs. Germany) flat at around 92bps (here). According to the latest estimates, the populist Five-Star movement, created by comedian Beppe Grillo and led by its prime ministerial candidate Luigi di Maio, came in first individually capturing 32.7% of the votes. However, if we look at the coalitions results, the Center-Right coalition got 37% of the vote shares, with the alliance including the League with 17.4%, former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (14%) and the Brothers of Italy (4.4%) and US with Italy (1.3%) parties. The disappointment was for the Democratic Party, which has governed Italy since 2013, as the Center-Left coalition captured ‘only’ 23% of the vote shares (much lower than the 27+% estimates, here), prompting former PM Matteo Renzi to step down as party leader. The FT published an interesting graphic lately, showing the geography of the electoral vote: Italy, the politically divided country (here). As you can see it, the Five-Star movement made the largest gain in the South (including Sardinia), in regions with the lowest per capita income.

Hence, following the election results, an interesting chart to watch in the weeks to come is the 10Y Bond yield vs. the Italy EPU index. As a reminder, the Economic Policy Uncertainty (EPU) index was developed by Baker, Bloom and Davis (2016) as a measure of economic policy uncertainty based on newspaper coverage frequency. The authors studied the evolution of political uncertainty since 1985 across countries (12 including the US) using leading newspapers that contain a combination of three of the target terms: economy, uncertainty and one or more policy-relevant terms (For the European EPU index, the author used two leading newspapers per country). Since its inception, the index has gained popularity in practice, measuring another form of market’s volatility or uncertainty. Baker et al. found that elevated political uncertainty has negative economic effects, which can potentially impact market prices.

This chart plots the EPU index versus the Italy 10-year bond yield. We can observe an interesting correlation between the two series. Since the financial crisis, it looks like LT sovereign yields have been rising when the EPU index increased ahead of a political or economic uncertain event. For instance, during the European debt crisis of 2010 – 2012, the EPU Index for Italy rose from 75 to over 200, while the 10Y yield skyrocketed from 4% to 7%. The financial meltdown in the Euro area was then halted after ECB Draghi’s “Whatever it takes to preserve the Euro” famous words at a global investment conference in London on 26 July, 2012.

As we mentioned in our previous posts, we don’t see any imminent risk for Italy, however a potential threat to investors would be a prolonged period of political instability. The question now is: can a rise in Italian LT yields in the next few months lead to a contagion to other peripheral countries’ bond yields (i.e. Spain or Portugal, here)?

Chart: Italy EPU Index (lhs) vs. 10 bond yield 

(Source: Eikon Reuters, policyuncertainty.com)

 

Ahead of the ECB and Fed meetings: watch the VIX

In this very quiet week, the SP500 is once again ‘playing’ with the 2,100 level and we strongly believe that it could be a perfect time to go short if you think about the upside / downside risk. There are many events coming up starting with the ECB meeting tomorrow and Non-Farm Payrolls on Friday. We guess we could see some volatility coming from these events which could impact equities and the FX market. As we wrote here, we saw that usually EURUSD tends to be positively correlated to sudden rise in volatility. Even though we expect the ECB to keep its rates steady (deposit at -0.4%, refi at 0% and marginal lending facility at 0.25%) with no increase in the current 80-billion-euro QE program, the market may react negatively during Draghi’s conference starting 1.30pm. Once again, the ECB could disappoint, leading to equities sell-off and some Euro appreciation. As you can see it in the chart below, EURUSD has entered in a bearish trend since May 3rd, decreasing by 5 figures until it hit its 200-SMA (yellow line) at 1.11. It has been trading within a 90-pip range over the past 3 days and we expect the currency pair to stay rangy today as well; however we would pay attention to the potential spike we can see tomorrow. The first strong resistance on the upside stands at 1.1250, a breakout could directly lead us towards the 1.1350 – 1.1400 range.

EURUSD

(Source: Bloomberg)

In addition, US non-farm payrolls could disappoint on Friday (Bloomberg survey at 160K) leading to another round of equity sell-off, sending the US 10-year yield back below 1.8% and pushing the Euro to higher levels. If we look back at the beginning-the-year sell-off in the chart below, the SP500 (candlesticks) fell by more than 200pts, the US 10-year (red line) crashed from 2.3% to 1.66% while the Euro (green line) surged by 7 figures to almost 1.14 against the greenback.

SPYields

(Source: Bloomberg)

Another reason to go short US equities at the moment could be a good strategy to hedge yourself against a volatility spike ahead of the FOMC meeting (June 14/15). If we look at the FedWatch Tool developed in the CME website, there is a 22.5% implied probability of a rate hike based on the CME 30-day Fed Funds futures prices.

FedWatch

(Source: CME Group)

However, the odds are higher based on the last few speeches delivered by US policymakers and of course a quiet market. In her 30-minute Q&A session with Greg Mankiw at Harvard on Friday, Fed Chairman Yellen said that the economy was continuing to improve and that a ‘rate hike in coming months may be appropriate’. In ouropinion, we think a June move is appropriate, especially if equities still trade above 2,000 until that meeting. In addition, if we look at the Eurodollar futures market, time deposits denominated in US dollars and held at banks outside of the United States, the June contract trades 99.28 (i.e. the implied rates is at 72bps). Eurodollar contracts are useful to look at as well as they are more liquid than Fed Funds futures.

The only reason we see no rate hike this meeting is if we experience another sharp sell off within the next couple of weeks.

Dollar pause: poor US fundamentals or overall disappointment on more global easing?

Since its high in mid-March last year, the US dollar has ‘stabilized’ vs. overall currencies; if we look at the US Dollar index (Source: Bloomberg, DXY index), it hit a high of 100.40 in March 13th then has been ranging between 92.50 and 100 over the past year. Now the question we have been asking ourselves is‘what is the main reason for this stagnation?’

USDIndex

(Source: Bloomberg) 

We strongly believe that one of the main reasons comes from looser-than-expected FOMC statements and a shift in expectations on more monetary policy tightening in the near future. If we look at the market, Fed Funds futures predict a much lower ST rates in the future compare to the Fed’s dot plot. Looking at the chart below, whereas the Fed officials see rates at around 1% and 2% by the end of 2016 and 2017 respectively, the market (Red line) predicts 50bps and 1%. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the market participants are right, but it looks to me that they are more ‘rational’ based on current market conditions and this spread between the Fed and the market may have created a dollar pause over the past year.

FedPlotvsMarket

(Source: Bloomberg)

The first reason that could explain why the Fed has been holding rates steady since last December would be the poor fundamentals we have seen lately (except for the unemployment rate currently at 4.9%). For instance, US GDP growth rate has been slowing over the past three quarters and came in at 1.4% for the last quarter of 2015 (vs. almost 4% in Q2). If we look at the latest core PCE deflator release (the inflation figure the Fed tracks), the index came in at 1.56% YoY in March, still far below the Fed’s ‘target’ of 2%. In addition, the economic data have been more than disappointing overall, which could explain the recent fly-to-quality and why yields are starting to plunge again (the 10Y YS yield trades currently at 1.8%, while the 30Y is at 2.66%).

Secondly, corporate profits have been plunging and printed a 7.8% fall in Q4 2015, the biggest decline since Q1 2011 (-9.2%) and the fourth decline in the last five quarters. If we look at chart below, we can see that the divergence between the S&P500 index and the 12-month forward earnings doesn’t work for too long and equities tend to be the one moving in general. You can see that in that case, equities are still overvalued based on this analysis and there is more potential downside coming in the future.

SPXFEPS

(Source: ZeroHedge)

The third and most important reason explaining this status quo – i.e. US dollar pause – would be the current global macro situation. Certainly, market participants have been recently disappointed by the recent news coming either from Japan (no additional QE see article) or the Eurozone and the loss of confidence in the ECB. On March 10th, Draghi announced the ECB Bazooka plan, where the officials decided to:

  • cut decrease the deposit refi and marginal lending rates to -0.4%, 0% and 0.25% respectively
  • Increase the QE from 60bn to 80bn Euros per month
  • Implement a four new target LTROs (TLTROs) each with maturity 4years
  • Include investment grade euro-denominated bonds issued by non-bank corporations clong the assets that are eligible for regular purchases

The effect on the market was minor; if we look at the chart below, the Euro increased in value against the greenback (green line) and the equity market stands at the same level since the announcement (Eurostoxx 50 index trading slightly below 3,000).

EUROstoxx

(Source: Bloomberg)

The sales-side research suggest that CBs should consider purchasing equities as well or taxing wealth (Deutsche Bank) as a intermediate step before implementing the Helicopter money strategy.

Despite a recent spike since the beginning of the year mainly driven by the recovery in oil prices (WTI spot increased from 26$ to 43$ per barrel), commodity prices are still trading at their lowest level since 1998 according to the Bloomberg BCOM index (see chart below). China’s (and other EM countries’) slowdown continue to weight on international finance putting a lot of export-driven countries into difficulty (or close to default). We personally believe that this situation will remain in the next 12 to 18 months as the emergence of a credit crisis in the EM market is not too far away.

CommodityPrices

(Source: Bloomberg)

Therefore, we think the global lack of easing will tend to stabilized the US dollar in the medium term; another rate hike from Yellen in one of the next two meetings is sort of priced in by the market, therefore only action from the rest of the world could start to bring interest into the US dollar. we would be careful of going short equities at the moment as USDJPY is very low and a response from the BoJ (more ETFs purchases) is kind of imminent if Kuroda wants to stop this current equity sell off and Yen purchases.

 

 

Macro 2: Euro update

After the first part on Japan, the second one will give a current status on the Euro Zone economy and the ECB. As in Japan and US, the deflationary cycle has also been a big issue (the annual HICP inflation rate has been moving around 0% over the past year) due to this commodity meltdown.

QE recap: As you know, Mario Draghi announced in January last year that the Central Bank will start expanding its Balance Sheet. The QE programme, called the Public Sector Purchase Programme (PSPP), started on March 9th 2015 and was first planned to last until September 2016. The purchases will be split between sovereign bonds and securities from European institutions and national agencies, and will amount a total of €60bn worth of bonds each month. As you can see it on the chart below, the announcement was quite a success if we look at the stock market; Eurostoxx 50 Index (candles) went up 28% between January 2015 low and April’s high of 3,836. At the same time, the programme also pushed down the single currency (green line) to 1.05 against the greenback, making the dream of certain EU’s officials come true.

EuroMarket.jpg

(Source: Bloomberg)

However, it didn’t take too long for the situation to change. The 10Y German Bund yield surged from a low of 4.9bps reached on April 17th to a high of 105bps on June 10th, a net change of 1% in simply 6 weeks. At the same time, the equity market went down 500 points and the Euro surged to 1.15, on rumours that the Fed will lose its ‘patience’ and start a tightening cycle and a weak and irreversible EMU. If we look at the moves on the interest rate market (European sovereign bonds and the single currency) since the famous meeting in May 2014, it is clear that the market’s participants had been front running Draghi on the basic rule of the ECB’s Will To Power. However, the two charts (especially the moves on the German Bunds) describe that this situation can change suddenly, drastically and very quickly.

GermanBund.PNG

(Bund 10-year, source Bloomberg)

In order to calm those market moves and restore a new bullish and stable trend in the market, the ECB’s answers were quite limited and combined a few promises (ECB ‘unlimited options’ jawboning, what does it really mean?), with a decrease in the deposit facility rate (from -0.2% to -0.3%) and an extension of the PSPP programme by an extra six months (until the end of March 2017). We saw that the market reacted negatively to those news and the EuroStoxx 50 Index trades now more or less at the same level (3,000  points) than in January last year (in order words, QE failure…).

When it comes to the Euro, there are a few things that fascinate me as it usually concerns more participants than its 19-nation economy. First of all, the chart below shows the deposit rate of the following countries’ central bank:

  • ECB at -0.3% (Blue/White line)
  • Sweden Riksbank at -0.35% (Yellow line)
  • Denmark at -0.65% (Red line)
  • Swiss SNB at -0.75% (Purple line)
  • Norway (Base Rate) at 0.75% (Green Line)

Deposit Rate.PNG

(Source: Bloomberg)

As you can see, all CBs switched to NIRP policies (expect Norway) over the past year to counter this deflationary cycle and sluggish growth; it seems that all other European economies (with Switzerland) have been forced to follow the ECB moves in order to avoid a sharp local currency appreciation (vs. the Euro). Therefore, when you hear about the ECB’s decisions, you must think what will happen to those economies as well (and some Eastern European ones as an extent). We will see what are the consequences and reactions in the near future (12 months) as we know that NIRP policies tend to inflate asset prices ‘artificially’, especially the real estate market (look at Sweden, or Norway for instance), and force banks to pass on the negative carry to their clients (questioning the value of money as it is better to hold money under the mattress than in a negative interest-bearing bank account).

Secondly, the Euro has been reacting positively (and violently) to a few market events, like the August flash crash (EURUSD surged from 1.1365 to 1.1714 in a single trading session on August 24th) or the Draghi’s disappointment on December 3rd (EURUSD went up by 5 figures that day). We are always questioning what can explain that? A first answer could come from the fact that the Euro has become one cheap funding currency, and during periods of stress, the carry unwinds lead to some Euro appreciation. It can explain some strength, but not sure about those drastic moves. Another explanation could be that sometimes, the Euro acts a safe-haven currency. We explained it a couple of articles (here and here), that we have to look at how the market is currently positioned (late correlation with the VIX index).

A quick EURUSD analysis:

At the moment, we visualize the Euro as a ball still full of air that everybody is trying to sink under water. However, everybody’s weight (which can be described as market participants’ view) can change and if it becomes too light, the ball can come up to the surface quite quickly naturally). The EURUSD-pair looks rangy; a strong support stands at 1.07 with a resistance area 1.10 – 1.1050 (100 and 200 SMA) where the bears are waiting to short. One careful thing to watch (and potentially play) is in the upside in case the 1.1050 level is broken; this could trigger many stops and bring the Euro to last year’s highs (1.14 – 1.16).

EURUSD.PNG

(Source: Bloomberg)

A Euro update ahead of the ECB meeting

As we are in the middle of a market turmoil, with equities down 10 to 15 percent since the beginning of the year, we thought that a quick update on the Euro (and where it is going) could do it. With Eurostoxx index down 12% and peripheral sovereign and financial risk spiking (Banca Monte Paschi di Siena down 60%, trading at 51 cents), markets’ participants are questioning themselves ‘what more could the ECB do?’ Currently on a €60bn bond-purchases program (which duration was extended to March 2017) combined with a NIRP policy (deposit rate at -0.3%), there is not much that Draghi could offer to the market in order to depreciate the single currency to lower levels (parity?) and stabilize the market.

Since the Euro’s recovery when Draghi’s credibility was threatened at the December’s meeting (no increase in the asset purchase programme), EURUSD has been trading sideways over the past 6 weeks within a 350-pip range (1.07 – 1.1050). It looks like the single currency is struggling to break trough the 1.10 strong resistance, and We believe that a lot of bears are waiting to go short around that area. However, we would be cautious on a new disappointing news coming from the ECB that could potentially send EURUSD to new highs. Unless the Governing Council reveals a new plan to stabilize the Euro Zone economy and its stagnating inflation rate (+0.2% in December), there are no main reasons why the Euro should decline drastically tomorrow. One chart that we like to watch when volatility spikes is EURUSD and its correlation with the VIX index. As you can see it on the chart below, the 10-day correlation has moved from 0 to 74% over the past two weeks, with the VIX index trading slightly below 30. We think it could be interesting to watch the overnight session and its impact on tomorrow’s trading session, as we know that the single currency can act as a safe haven asset in periods of high volatility (and low liquidity). The last time was on August 24th as we wrote it in our article EURUSD and VIX last September.

EURVIX

(Source: Bloomberg)

Global Macro: trade on China’s weak signs and Draghi’s Will to Power

This article deals with a few current hot topics:

  • The main one gives an update on weakening signs of giant China
  • The second one reviews the ECB Thursday’s meeting, presented with a couple of FX positioning
  • The last one is on the debt ceiling debate and risk-off sentiment

China desperately flowing…

As I am looking at the current news in the market, there has been a lot of interesting topics to study over the past couple of months. I will first start this article with an update on China and its weakening economy. Since the Chinese ‘devaluation’ on August 11th, I have been focusing much more in the EM and Asian Market as I strongly believe that the developed world is not yet ready for a China & Co. slowdown. I heard an interesting analysis lately, which was sort of describing the assets that had performed since the PBoC action more than two months ago. As you can see it on the chart below, Gold prices (XAU spot) accelerated from 1,100 to a high of 1,185 reached on October 14th, and Bitcoin recovered from its low of 200 reached in late August and now trades at $285 a piece.

ChinaandBitcoinGold

(Source: Bloomberg)

One additional explanation that I have for Gold is that I believe that the 1,100 level could be an interesting floor for long-term investors interested in the currency of the last resort. The weak macro, loose monetary policy, low interest rates and more and more currency crisis in EM countries will tend to bring back gravity in Gold, especially if prices become interesting (below $1,100 per ounce) for long-term buyers.

Looking at the CSI 300 Index, we still stand quite far from the [lower] historical high of 5,380 reached in the beginning of June last year. Since then, as a response, we had a Chinese devaluation, the PBoC cutting the minimum home down payment for buyers in cities last month (September 30th) from 30% to 25% due to weak property investment, and then a few days ago the PBoC cutting the Reserve Requirement Ratio (RRR) for all banks by 50bps to 17.50% and its benchmark lending rate by 25bps to 4.35%. Looking at all these actions concerns me on the health of the Chinese economy; it looks very artificial and speculative. In a late article, Steve Keen, a professor in economics explained that the Chinese private-debt-to-GDP ratio surged from 100% during the Great financial crisis to over 180% in the beginning of 2015, amassing the largest buildup of bad debt in history. Its addiction to over expand rapidly have left more than one in five homes vacant in China’s urban areas according to the Survey and Research for China Household Finance. Banks are well too exposed to equities and the housing market, and it looks that they have now started a similar decline as the US before 2008 and Japan before 1991. To give you an idea, the real estate was estimated to be at 6% of US GDP at the peak in 2005, whereas it represents roughly 20% of China’s GDP today.

ChinaPrivatedebt

(Source: Forbes article, Why China Had to Crash)

I wrote an article back last September where I mentioned that the Chinese economy will tend to slow down more quickly than analyst expect, therefore impacting the overall economy. We saw that GDP slide to 6.9% QoQ in the third quarter, its slowest pace since 2009 and quite far from the 7.5%-8% projection in the beginning of this year.

Draghi’s Will To Power

One fascinating event this week was the ECB meeting on Thursday. Despite a status quo on its interest rate policy, leaving deposit rate at -0.2% and the MRO at 5bps, a few words from the ECB president drove immediately the market’s attention. He said exactly that ‘The degree of monetary policy accommodation will need to be re-examined at our December policy meeting’, therefore implying that the current 1.1 trillion-euro program will be increased. As you can see it on the chart, EURUSD reacted quite sharply, declining from 1.1330 to a low of 1.0990 on Friday’s trading session, and sending equities – Euro Stoxx 50 Index – to a two-month high above 3,400. Italy 2-year yield was negative that day (hard to believe that it was trading above 7.5% in the end of November 2011).

ECBmeeting

(Source: Bloomberg)

 I am always curious and excited to see how a particular currency will fluctuate in this kind of important events (central banking meeting usually). One thing that I learned so far is to never be exposed against a central bank’s desire; you have two options, either stay out of it or be part of the trend.  I think EURUSD could continue to push to lower levels in the coming days, with the market slowly ‘swallowing’ Draghi’s comment. I think that the 1.0880 level as a first target is an interesting level with an entry level slightly below 1.1100 (stop above 1.1160).

USDJPY broke out of its two-month 119 – 121 in the middle of October down to almost 118, where it was considered as a buy-on-dip opportunity. It then levitated by 3 figures to 121.50 in the past couple of weeks spurred by a loose PBoC and ECB. The upside looks quite capped in the medium term if we don’t hear any news coming from the BoJ. The upside move on USDJPY looks almost over, 121.75 – 122 could be the key resistance level there.

USDJPYTrade

(Source: Bloomberg)

Potential volatility and risk-off sentiment coming from the debt ceiling debate

On overall, with US equities – SP500 index – quietly approaching its 2,100 key psychological resistance with a VIX slowly decreasing towards its 12.50 – 13 bargain level, I will keep an eye on the debt ceiling current debate in the US, which could trigger some risk-off sentiment in the next couple of weeks (i.e cap equities and USDJPY on the upside). Briefly, the Congress has to agree on raising the debt limit to a new high of 19.6tr USD proposed (from 18.1tr USD where it currently stands). The debt limit is the total amount of money that the United States government is authorized to borrow to meet its existing obligations, and the current debt ceiling proposal’s deadline is November 3rd. No agreement would mean that the US government could default on its debt obligations, which could potentially increase the volatility in the market.

The chart below shows the increase of the debt ceiling since the early 1970s, after the Nixon Shock announcement which led to the end of Bretton Woods and the exponential expansion of credit.

USceiling

(Source: The Burning Platform) 

March: ECB’s painful month?

As you know, the Euro has been massively under pressure since the ECB’s May meeting last year and decreased from 1.40 to a low of 1.11 before edging back to 1.14. In my article The Euro Strength and The ECB’s options, I explained the ‘Euro strength story’ (July 2012 – May 2014) by the following three factors:

  • Narrowing peripheral-core spreads (After Draghi’s ‘Whatever it takes’ and OMT introduction)
  • Divergence between the ECB and the Fed’s balance sheet total assets
  • Current Account back into positive territories

During this ‘prosperous’ period, nothing was able to stop the Euro despite poor fundamentals (i.e. flat growth, high unemployment rate and declining inflation). Then, Draghi’s promise ‘the Council is comfortable with acting in June’ completely broke the upside trend and the market has been totally relying on the ECB’s balance sheet expansion plan. It is clear now that EZ policymakers’ goal is to see the central bank’s balance sheet expend by 1.14tr Euros within the next 18 months and reach June 2012 levels (approximately 3.1tr Euros). As you can see it on the graph below (EURUSD monthly chart), the market got really excited about this news and traders and investors have completely switch to a bearish view when it comes to EURUSD (and EURGBP). We saw that Bulge Bracket banks reviewed their EURUSD forecasts for 2015. Sell-side research predicts a EURUSD between 0.90 and 1.00 within the next 6 to 12 months. Moreover, if we have a quick look at the last CFTC’s Commitments of Traders report, ‘net speculative’ positions were approximately -186,000 in the week ending February 17, and are closely approaching June 2012 low of -215,000.

Screen Shot 02-23-15 at 12.44 AM

(Source: Oanda, CoT)

If you ask me where I see EURUSD in the long term, there is no doubt that my answer is ‘South’. With the Fed considering starting its monetary policy tightening cycle (June meeting for a first 25bps shift probably), monetary policy divergence will weigh on the currency pair in the LT and parity looks like a reasonable level to me. In addition, Grexit contagion effect to ‘scarier’ countries such as Spain could also trigger another episode of peripheral-core yield spread divergence and therefore add more selling pressure on the single currency.

However, I think that traders and investors should be careful at the moment. Over the past two weeks, volatility has dropped in the market and EURUSD has been trading within a tight 180-range (1.1270 – 1.1450). Based on the last discussions I had, some of the traders were clearly waiting for a breakout ahead of the Greek deal, therefore the 1.1270 support was carefully watched on Friday (this is the reason why I put my take profit slightly above at 1.1300, see article Pocketful of Miracles). However, the Euro looks resilient based on current market conditions and I have to admit that I see potential Euro strength in the month coming ahead. As you can see it below, EURUSD reached a 11-year low at the end of last month at 1.11 before coming back to 1.14. The Fibonacci retracements were built based on October 200 low of 0.8230 and July 2008 high of 1.6040 range. Unless contagion risk spreads to other EZ countries (i.e. higher core-peripheral risk), the bullish trend could last for a month or two (based on previous bull consolidation after sharp sell-off).

Screen Shot 02-23-15 at 12.50 AM

(Source: FXCM)

The ECB bond buying program: Ambitious plan, disappointing results?

We are aware now that the ECB has announced a round of measures in order to counter the deflationary cycle (inflation rate of -0.6% in January) and of course support investment and consumption, the two key contributors of the 19-nation economy. The last one was of course the January announcement of additional purchases (combined monthly asset purchases of 60bn Euros from March to September 2016). This programs involves private assets such as covered bonds (safe form of debt issued by banks), ABS and public debt (bonds of national government and European institutions). However, unlike the Fed, the ECB will have to seek them in the secondary market; in other words, find the banks that will sell them these bonds. And Draghi’s (and Co.) problem here is that the ECB may face unwilling sellers. As some of you know, banks’ treasury desks usually buy short-term bonds and use government debt as a liquidity buffer: regulators require banks to hold high-quality liquid assets – HQLAs – against future cash outflows in periods of market stress. As some of you may know, most bonds issued by banks are excluded as they may prove illiquid during a financial crisis; however, the eligibility requirements imposed on government bonds look loose. Therefore, this implies that that government bonds currently represent a considerable portion of bank assets.

In the European Union, there are two new ratios:

  • Liquidity Coverage Ratio LCR, requiring banks to hold a stock of liquid assets for an amount covering the net liquidity outflows which might be experienced, under stressed condition, over the following 30 days,
  • Net Stable Funding Ratio (NFSR), which requires that the amount of available stable funding (i.e. portion of capital and liabilities expected to be reliable over a one-year time horizon) should be at least equal to the required amount of stable funding or the matching assets (i.e. illiquid assets which cannot be easily turned into cash over the following 12 months).

These two ratios were enacted through a Capital Requirements Directive (CDR4) and Regulation (CRR) issued in June 2013. Based on the Basel 3 documents, liquid assets in the LCR should mainly consists of:

  • Cash
  • Central bank reserves (including required reserves)
  • Marketable securities representing claims on or guaranteed by sovereign, central banks, PSEs, BIS, IMF, the ECB and European Community, or multilateral development banks
  • Bonds issued by non-financial firms and covered bonds with a rating at least equal to AA, subject to a 15% haircut and a 40% concentration limit

The two questions now that comes to my mind are:

  1. Who will sell those bonds to the ECB?
  2. Suppose the ECB offers good prices (i.e. good realized PnL for bond trading desks), what will traders do with this new cash with a deposit rate now at -0.2%?

Disappointing ECB could lead to Euro strength…

To conclude, I think there is potential risk that the ECB disappoints the market in March based on their purchases as the central bank won’t find the liquidity in the market. In my opinion, this scenario could play in favor of the single currency. My point is that we may see a bull consolidation before reaching the parity level that everyone seems to be talking about. The next couple of resistances to watch on the topside would be at 1.1530 and 1.1680.

January 2015: A Rough Start

The past month has been quite eventful in the financial market and I am sure that some of the decisions (if not all) surprised many of us. After the SNB announce on January 15th, the ECB took over and unveiled a €60bn monthly QE (not open-ended) through September 2016; so 19 months at €60bn equals €1.14tr. The ECB, which has already been buying private assets such as covered bonds (a safe form of debt issued by banks) and ABS, will add an additional €50bn worth of public debt (bonds of national government and European institutions) to its current program starting in March this year. The purchases of these securities (in the secondary market) will be based on the Eurosystem NCB’s shares in the ECB’s capital.
In addition, President Draghi also added that the ECB will remove the 10bp spread on the TLTROs, and the interest rate applied will be equal to the rate on the Eurosystem’s MRO (5bp).

We saw on Friday that EZ preliminary inflation fell by 0.6% in January after a -0.2% print in December, the largest decline since July 2009 when prices also fell 0.6% following GFC.

The ECB decision(s) sent the Euro to newest lows last week, down to 1.1120 (11-year lows) against the greenback and below the 0.75 level (0.7440) against the pound. But more importantly, it sent a bigger amount of government debt in the negative territory (yields). According to JP Morgan, there is currently (approximately) €1.5tr of Euro area government bond with longer than 1-year maturity trading at negative yields over time, and a ‘mind-blowing’ €3.6tr of global government bond debt (nearly a fifth of the total) with negative yields as the chat below shows us. For instance, the entire 10-year Swiss curve is  now negative.

Global NIRP(Source: JPMorgan)

Another interesting topic is of course the 3 consecutive rate cuts (in 10 days) by the Danish Central Bank, that lowered it deposit rate to a record low of -0.5% to defend its peg and keep the Danish kroner (DKK) close to 7.46 per Euro (ERM II since 1999). EURDKK went down below 7.43; we will see this week how much policymakers spent in January in order to counter a DKK appreciation (some reports estimated that the central bank had to sell more than DKK 100bn). As a consequence (of the NIRP policy), a local bank – Nordea Kredit – is now offering a mortgage with a negative interest rate.
I believe the Danish krone is a currency to watch (in addition to the CHF) this month if the situation in Greece deteriorates.

A Weak Swiss Franc…
Since the SNB surprise, the Swiss has remained weak against the major currencies, with USDCHF up 7 figures  (trading currently at 0.93) and EURCHF up from parity to 1.0550. Analysts slashed their forecast for this year and are now predicting a recession (-0.5% according to the KOF Swiss Economic Institute). I like the chart below which shows the 12-month Probability of the top 10 countries to fall into recession in the coming months according to Bloomberg economist surveys.

Probarecession(Source: Bloomberg)

Japan and JPY still under threat over the long-run
In Japan, the 10-year JGB yield rose by 9bp in the last 10 days and is now trading at 29bps. USDJPY tumbled below 117 overnight on Grexit comments and Chinese manufacturing PMI contraction in January (49.8 vs. 50.2 expected), breaking its 117.25 support and extending its trading range to 116 – 118.75. ‘Buyers on dips’ reversed the trend and the pair is now trading at 117.60.
If we look at the long-run perspective in Japan, late macro indicators showed us that Abe’s government will have to do more. Real wages are still declining and fell the most in almost 5 years and the economy has now entered in a triple-dip recession (0.5% contraction QoQ in Q3). On the top of that, inflation has been weakening for the past 8 months as energy prices (mainly weak crude oil) weight on Japanese core inflation rate.
In addition, we saw that Japan plans a record budget deficit for next fiscal year (starting April 1st 2015) to support the economy. FinMin Taro Aso reported that government minister and the ruling coalition parties approved a 96.34tr Yen budget proposal for FY2015/2016. And I believe that we haven’t reached the peak yet, as Japan’s aging population (i.e. increasing social security spending) will ‘force’ the government to print larger and larger deficits. The IMF predicts that the country’s debt-to-GDP ratio will increase to 245% in 2015. It clearly shows that the USDJPY trend is not over yet, and there is further JPY weakness (and USD strength) to come.

On the other side of the Pacific Ocean, the US economy cooled in the fourth quarter. After the 5-percent Q3 print, GDP expanded at a 2.6% annual pace in the fourth quarter (first estimate). Net exports was the largest detractor from Q4 GDP (-1.02%) as imports grew faster than exports. King Dollar continues to benefit from the global weakness with the USD index trading slightly below 95. The equity market still handles the Fed’s withdrawal from the Bond Market with the S&P500 trading around 2,000 (looks like it is out of energy though), while US Treasury yields are compressing to new lows. The 10-year and the 30-year yields are trading at 1.67% and 2.25% respectively (which is quite concerning), and it seems the trend is not over yet. In regards to the inflation rate (that plummeted to 0.8% in December), the Fed delivered a hawkish statement last Wednesday (‘strong jobs gains’, ‘solid pace’ for economy), however dropping the entire ‘considerable time’ sentence and adding ‘inflation is anticipating to decline further in the near term’. The implied rate of the December 2015 Fed Funds futures contract is trading 30bps lower at 41 bps, while the December 2016 implied rate decreased by 60bps to 1.05bps in the past 6 weeks.

An important topic to follow this month will be developments in Greece which are moving very fast since the election on Sunday (January 25) and Syriza’s victory. ECB council Member Erkki Liikanen said over the week end that Greece needs to negotiate a deal before February 28th (when the Greek support program EFSF expires after the 2-month extension approved in December).

ECB dilemma: Whatever it can…

As you know, the Fed eventually stepped out of the market with its last POMO of QE4Ever yesterday (the NY Fed revealed that it monetized $931mio of bonds maturing between 2036 and 2044); normalcy returns today for the US. However, the game is starting in Europe with the ECB that started its covered-bonds purchases last week (a mere 1.7bn EUR according to Bloomberg). And there is more coming: ABS purchases, second round of T-LTRO on December 11th, corporate bonds in the secondary market and eventually sovereign bonds if needed.

Remember the ECB’s most important chart (see below) right now, the 5Y5Y forward swap rate, aka the preferred measure of medium-term inflation expectations. As a reminder, a 5year/5year forward swap represents a swap beginning in 5 year with a maturity of 5 years whereby counterparty pays fixed while the other pays a floating rate (3M EURIBOR for instance) on the nominal amount (for more details, see article Introducing the Swaptions (and IRS)).

As you can see it, the key number is 2 percent (or 200 bps). The rate moved below the threshold since the end of the summer and is now fluctuating around 1.80%.

image001(1)(1)

(Source: Bloomberg)

It is the third time the ECB is intervening directly on the secondary market to ‘fight against’ deflation threat. As a reminder, annual inflation came in at 0.3% in September, far below the central bank’s 2-percent target (none of the countries below has an inflation rate as high as 2 percent). Moreover, officials reduced their inflation and growth forecasts to 0.6% and 0.9% respectively (from 0.7% and 1% respectively) for 2014 at the September’s meeting.

image002(1)

(Source: Eurostat)

After the 1tr EUR+ balance sheet expansion announcement (Draghi targets dimensions the central bank used to have in the beginning of 2012), there has been some talks that the ECB may struggle to find enough corporate bonds and ABS to buy (eligible as collateral). While EZ policymakers stated that there is approximately €600bn of eligible covered bonds, the market estimates that the ECB will only able to buy a small portion (a fifth?) of those assets. As banks benefit from covered bonds’ low risk weighs under Basel 3 rules, there is little chance they will sell it to the ECB and use the money to lend to non-financial institutions. Back in 2012, in its Covered Bond Program Round 2, the ECB struggled to meet its 40bn-Euro target and purchased only €16.4bn of those assets (see chart below from ZeroHedge). We will see how it will go this time.

image003(1)

(Source: ZeroHedge)

Any solution there?

We know Germans are not very keen on public QE (sovereign bonds), we call it the Draghi-Weidmann fight. Weidmann describes government bond purchases as a ‘dangerous path’, in addition to be forbidden (Article 123 on the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union, the prohibition of monetary financing). Therefore, investors will closely watch the updates on the ABS and other corporate bonds purchases package, to see if the ECB can meet its goal.

After the ECB announced that 25 banks failed its third stress test (see details in Appendix 1), and that the cumulative capital shortfall among the 25 failures was €25bn (less than the €27bn reported in 2011), the ‘real’ scary figure was the €135.9bn increase in Eurozone bad debt to an outstanding amount of €879bn, which represents roughly 9% of EZ GDP (see details in Appendix 2, Bad debt is called NPE – Non-Performing Exposure). As ZeroHedge mentioned it in its last articles on the AQR/Stress test results, maybe the NPE should be the ECB ‘hot spot’. How long until Draghi monetizes those assets?

Appendix 1:

image004(1)

(Source: ECB’s website)

Appendix 2:

image005(2)

 (Source: ECB’s website)