How long will the UK equity market hold?

With an expected annual real growth of 1.5% in 2018 according to the general consensus, the UK economy switched from the top DM performer in 2014 to bottom 2 in 2018, the second lowest growing country after Japan (1.2%).  Uncertainty around Brexit is still weighing on the economic outlook, which is pushing the Bank of England to keep a loose monetary policy and use different tools to counter a potential downturn. As a result of the referendum, policymakers announced in August 2016 a GBP 70bn expansion of the central bank’s balance sheet, purchasing GBP 60bn of government bonds (Gilts) and GBP 10bn of corporate bonds. In addition, the BoE also provided GBP 127bn of cheap loans (TFS drawings) to banks through the Term Funding Scheme (TFS), a 4-year funding at the BoE Base Rate plus a fee to the banks requiring them to lend into the real economy (an equivalent to the LTROs in the Euro area). Therefore, if we combine the three outstanding amounts together (figure 1, left frame), the BoE balance sheet’s total assets currently stand at GBP 572bn, or roughly 28% of UK’s GDP. In addition, UK policymakers kept the Official Bank rate at low levels and have slowly started a tightening cycle (figure 1, right frame)The base rate currently stands at 0.75%, and market participants are pricing in 1 to 2 hikes by the end of 2019, with the Short-Sterling Dec19 futures contract trading at 98.85 (1.15% implied rate).

Figure 1

Fig1.PNG

Source: Bank of England, Eikon Reuters

Even though the headline inflation in the UK is running at 2.5%, significantly helped by Sterling weakness following the referendum and the recovery in energy prices, policymakers are in a difficult position as the economic activity seems to be slowing down according to the fundamentals. Our leading economic indicator, which is built using a combination of survey and price data as inputs, is pricing a slowdown in industrial production within the next 6 months. Therefore, using the industrial production as a proxy of the UK’s economy activity, the real GDP annual growth could be actually be lower than the 1.5% expected for 2018.

Inflation should remain high according to our 6-month forecasting model, averaging an annual growth (CPI) of 2.5%/3% for the rest of the year, therefore nominal GDP in the UK should average 4% (which is far significantly higher than the 1.5% 10Y yield). Overall, political uncertainty around Brexit and the Trade war in addition to slowing fundamentals should limit growth expectations to the upside in the medium term and therefore should be reflected in the real and financial economy.

Figure 2

Fig2

Source: Eikon Reuters, RR

Another interesting observation is the dramatic decrease in excess liquidity, computed as the difference between the annual growth of real M1 (CPI adjusted) and annual growth in industrial production. According to many empirical studies, an increase in excess liquidity should benefit to the risky assets such as the stock market. As you can see it in figure 3 (left frame), excess liquidity has significantly decreased from 10.15% in August 2016 to 0.51% in June 2018 and therefore could weigh on UK equities in the medium term. In figure 3 (right frame), we use excess liquidity as a 6M leading indicator that we overlay with the annual performance of UK financials (using Eikon Reuters Total Return Index), a sector which is usually considered to act as a barometer of the country’s economy. We can clearly notice that financials tend to perform badly in periods of decelerating excess liquidity.

Figure 3

Fig3.PNG

Source: Eikon Reuters, RR

With the 10-year on Gilts trading slightly below 1.5% and an equity market up 1,500 points since Brexit (trading at 7,630 and 230pts away from the all-time high reached on May 21st), the British pound was the main asset that suffered from the Brexit vote. Cable plummeted from 1.4750 in early May 2016 to hit a low of 1.20 in October 2016 (its lowest level since 1985) before starting its recovery to 1.44 on the back of a US Dollar weakness in 2017. This year, Sterling is once again under pressure since the start of the Dollar rally in April, down 16 figures and currently trading below 1.29. Market sentiment is extremely bearish, with speculative investors net short -72.3K contracts according to the CFTC (August 21st CoT report). In figure 4 (left frame), we can notice that the 33K increase in longs was offset by the massive increase in shorts from -82.4K to -140.4K (-58K) over the past month. We think there is still room for GBP weakness in the next three months to come ahead of Brexit negotiations, but the premium and the convexity on shorting the pound at these levels are not that interesting in our opinion.

However, it seems that the equity market has not been reacting neither to Brexit uncertainty and the recent slowdown in UK fundamentals. Figure 4 (right frame) shows that over the past two years, to the exception of the early 2018 (global) equity sell-off, the Footsie 100 index has been significantly sensitive to a move in Sterling (see more here). For instance, Cable’s weakness starting in mid-April has helped pushed UK equities to hit new all-time highs, with the index soaring from 6,890 On March 26th to 7,860 on May 21st. Even though we may see some further GBP weakness in the months to come that could push UK equities to new highs, we think that current low levels of implied volatility (FTSE 100 VIX is currently trading at 11) offer a good opportunity for investors to hedge against a sudden sell-off within the next 6 months.

Figure 4

Fig4.PNG

Source: Eikon Reuters, CFTC

Great Chart: GBPUSD vs. FTSE 100

As we are closely approaching our 1.40 target for Cable (here), we chose an interesting chart this week that shows a scatter plot of the UK equity market (FTSE 100) with GBPUSD exchange rate, using a weekly frequency since January 2009.  Even though the relationship is not as clear as for Japan Equities and USDJPY (here), we can still observe a negative ‘Pavlovian‘ relationship where a cheaper currency usually implies higher equities. For instance, the British pound was massively sold post referendum (June 2016) on the back of an elevated political and economic uncertainty, high volatility and negative investors’ sentiment. Cable plunged from 1.44 a week before Brexit vote to reach a low of roughly 1.20 in October 2016 before starting its recovery in the first quarter of 2017.

One interesting observation is in the equity market; even though the FTSE 100 sold from 7,000 in April 2015 to 5,700 in February 2016 prior the event (as Cable), the post-Brexit rounds of Sterling depreciation played in favor of UK equities. However, over the past few months, the situation recovered in the UK, both the uncertainty and the volatility eased. If we look at the Economic and Political Uncertainty index, a monthly series based on newspaper coverage developed by Baker, Bloom and Davis, it is down from almost 1,200 (summer 2016) to 200, its prior Brexit average, bringing Cable’s 1M ATM implied volatility from 19 to 7.85 (here). At the same time, the 3-month 25 Delta Risk Reversal is back into the positive territory (from -6 in June / July 2016), meaning that the implied volatility on calls is more expensive than puts (here).

With an equity market closing at 7,730 on Friday and Cable at 1.3850 (flirting with the 1.39), we are curious to see if the relationship will continue this year. Hence the question is: will the Footsie break its 8,000 psychological resistance while Cable continues its momentum?

Our view is that the Bank of England may surprise the market in 2018 concerning its interest rate path. With the December 2019 short-sterling futures contract trading at 98.88 (i.e. implied rate of 1.12 by the end of 2019), market participants are currently pricing in two hikes for the next couple of years. We think that three to four hikes is more appropriate to the current economic climate, and policymakers may send a signal in the February update of its inflation forecasts, triggering some moves in the short-term interest rate market. We think that a potential move in the forward IR curves will benefit to the Sterling pound, however equities may struggle to reach new highs and break above the 8,000 level.

Chart: Cable vs. FTSE 100 (Source: Reuters Eikon)

FX ‘picking’, who is the one to watch?

For the past couple of months, volatility has declined in all asset classes and traders (and algos) have switched to a range trading attitude. If we have a quick overview of the market, we can see that the S&P500 is still fighting against the 2,100 level, the VIX is gradually approaching its crucial 12 level, core bond yields are trading a bit higher (Bund is up 10bps, trading at 16bps) and EURUSD is trading in the middle of its 1.05 – 1.10 range.

However, in a more detailed analysis, we heard some noise lately that trigger a bit of movements in the FX market.

1. SNB talks, first round…

The first one was the CHF move. A few days ago, I posted on my twitter account a chart (see tweet @LFXYvan on April 19) that I thought could be problematic for the Swiss economy (i.e. SNB). At that time, EURCHF was gradually approaching the 1.0250 level, down from 1.08 a couple of months ago (5% appreciation).

Then, a couple of days later, SNB comments sent he Swissy tumbling, with EURCHF and USDCHF up 150 and 200 pips respectively. In its comments, the SNB announced that it reduced the group of sight deposit account holders (bank account through which transfers in the form of cashless payments and cash deposits and withdrawals can be effected) that are exempt from negatives rates, therefore transferring the ‘negative carry’ to its clients and in hope that Sight Deposits are reduced.

Looking at the charts, it seems that it wasn’t enough to force investors to run away from the Swiss Franc and I think we are on the path to retest new lows on EURCHF and USDCHF. With Swissy becoming once again the safe-haven asset since the end of the floor in mid-January, SNB Jordan will have to do more to prevent the exchange rate from appreciating ‘too much’.

2. Cable: will the ‘hawkish’ minutes floor the currency losses ahead of the UK general election?

Yesterday’s BoE minutes trigger a bit of appetite for the pound and sent Cable to a 1-month high of 1.5070. As you can see it on the chart below, the currency is now flirting with its 50-day moving average, an important resistance that could halt the pair’s late bullish trend.

GBP

(source: FXCM)

To be honest, I didn’t understand the sort of positive GBP reaction based on the central bank’s report. If we look at the big lines, the Committee voted unanimously to keep the Official Bank Rate steady at 0.5% (as expected), and in the 23rd section, it says that policymakers were expecting the 12-month CPI rate to fall into the negative territory at ‘some point in the coming months’. It sounds more neutral (if not so, slightly dovish) than hawkish to me.

With the (uncertain) general election coming ahead, I’d rather keep a short position on Cable, especially at current levels. Conservatives should keep a tight stop at 1.5160 for a first target at 1.4750, however I would widen the room there and suggest a stop at 1.5250 (RR of 1.3).

3. Follow the CAD move

Another mover was the CAD, alongside rising prices for oil, which surged by 6 figures to hit a three-month low of 1.2090 on Friday before coming back to 1.22 (against the greenback). With the Western Canadian Select June futures trading at a 11.50 spread against the WTI and higher than expected inflation rate (1.2% YoY in March vs. 1% consensus), the probability of another 25bp cut from the BoC in order to counter a lower growth economic forecast was revised (lower) by the market. It could potentially cap USDCAD on the upside, first resistance is seen at 1.2280, then the second stands at 1.2400. I would be comfortable with a little short position on USDCAD, targeting 1.2180 at first (stop above 1.2360).

CAD

(Source: FXCM)

4. Trade the Yen from a ‘Technicals’ perspective

I will finish this article with the Yen and Japan latest news. We saw earlier this week that Japan Trade Balance saw a tiny JPY3.3bn surplus (vs 409bn deficit expected) after 48 months of trade deficits. Even though it should be considered as good news (for a country which is expected to see a current account deficit for the first time in 34 years), the reason of that tiny surplus was driven by a collapse in imports, that plunged by 14.5% YoY (the most since November 2009). The Good news for Abe (and Kuroda) is that the stock market closed above the 20,000 level this week for the first time in 15 years, making a least one of the arrows – monetary stimulus – work.
As the Yen still remains one of my favorite currencies to watch on a daily basis, I had a lot of conversations with some friends of mine, and we (almost) all agree each time that the BoJ will lose completely control of its currency in the medium/long term. If you look at Japan core figures (debt-to-GDP ratio of 240% according to the IMF, a declining population with more than 25% Japanese aged 65 or over – out of 127ml, massive stimulus as a share of the country’s GDP…), the problem is easily spotted and the biggest ‘opportunity’ will be in the currency market in the medium term.

However, I am more skeptical (i.e. less comfortable) with the short-term trading. Now that the currency has passed its safe-haven status to the Swissy (see tweet @LFXYvan on March 24), I am usually looking for some buy-on-dips opportunities. Being short USDJPY sometimes scares me in the way that I don’t understand how the market interpret good news or bad news in Japan (therefore I always keep a tight stop for short positions).

One thing I am still comfortable in saying that, in an intra-day basis, USDJPY and the equity market (SP500) are still ‘breathing’ together, therefore one of them will ‘carry’ the other.

The wide range on the pair would be 115.50 – 122, but based on today’s volatility I am looking at the 118.30 – 120.80 window. Any breakout of the window could lead to another ‘readjustment’; something I am going to watch closely. If the currency keeps approaching the high of the range, it could be worth going short at 120.60 with a stop above 121.00 and a target at 119.50.

JPY

(Source: FXCM)

Quick thoughts ahead of the Fed’s minutes…

Last month (October 8th), while many investors were quite confident on the US Dollar strength momentum, the minutes of the FOMC’s September 16-17 policy meeting clearly showed us a message from US policymakers.

If you ask me if we see a stronger dollar in the LT against most of the currencies, we would answer yes and without any doubt. we think the Fed is comfortable with a Dollar appreciation, however we strongly believe they want the process to be slow and gradual. Despite strong recent fundamentals (another NFP above the 200K level in October for the 9th consecutive time, an annual 3.5% first Q3 GDP estimate, ISM Manufacturing PMI still above 50, Housing Start fluctuating around 1mio for the past year…), global economic issues will weigh on US policymakers this time.

Let’s start with the first issue: the decline in oil prices. December Crude Oil WTI futures contract (CLZ14) is down $30 since end-of-June’s high, now trading below the $75 level. While we mentioned in one of our previous article that the decline in oil prices will be problematic for a lot of OPEC countries (see article Oil Breakeven Prices), it is now entering into critical levels even for the US. We heard and read that low oil prices could be seen as a stimulus for consumers, however it is now at levels hurting US shale production. According to some experts, most shale oil fields breakeven is seen between $70 and $75 per barrel (see chart below from Barclays Research).

ShaleBreakeven

(Source: Barclays)

 As a reminder, the US, now producing around 8.5 million barrels per day (8.65mio in August 2014 according to the Energy Information Administration), was expected to surpass Russia within the next 10 years and grow its production by 35% to approximately 11.5mio barrels per day (see chart below from the Wall Street Journal).

OilProduction

(Source: Wall Street Journal)

Therefore, if prices continue to fell, the party could end earlier than expected. In addition, lower oil prices will add pressure on inflation expectations and the 2-percent target that the Fed is watching desperately. Important figure to watch tomorrow, CPI inflation is expected to remain steady at 1.7% in November. Any print below that would create a bit of US Dollar weakness as traders will start to lose credibility on the quantitative definition of ‘considerable time’.

Speaking of disinflationary pressures, let me go to the second issue: Dollar strength. Back in the minutes, Fed officials mentioned that they saw ‘rising dollar as a risk to exports and growth’. At that time, the USD index was trading at a 4-year high above the 86 level, and up 8.5% approximately since July low of 79.78. Today, the index is trading at even higher levels (87.60), thanks to the BoJ and the Yen development and EM meltdown. We saw that September US trade balance printed its biggest deficit since April at $43bn (vs. $40.2bn consensus), up from $40bn the previous month, due to a decline in exports (down 1.5%). In our opinion, ‘Dollar strength’ will be one of the topics tonight, therefore we could see some dollar weakness after the release. In addition, Dollar strength will also weigh on inflation expectations in the US (we don’t think the inflation effect of dollar appreciation is negligible, especially couple with lower oil prices).

Therefore, we see a bit of disappointment this evening, and we will encourage some of the US Dollar bulls to cut some of their long positions. The Euro and especially the British pound could recover from their recent losses, technical resistances are seen at 1.2670 and 1.5800 respectively.

Euro and UK Updates

In short, inflation came in slightly above expectations at 0.4% YoY (vs. 0.3% expected), however it didn’t have much of an impact on the Euro. EUR/USD has been pretty rangy for the past couple of weeks, oscillating between 1.2875 and 1.3000. We see sellers at 1.2975-80, 1.3000 and 1.3025.

We believe that any bounce back above 1.3050 could be considered as a new opportunity to short the pair. Next target remains at 1.2800, greedy traders will target the 1.2750 retracement (9 July 2013).

EURUSD(1)

(Source: Reuters)

We went short EUR/GBP at 0.8030 last week as we believe the pound will ‘recover’ slightly from its losses. Earlier this morning, the ONS figures showed that the number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance in August fell by 37.2K (vs 30K expected), and the unemployment rate fell to 6.2% (vs 6.3% expected), its lowest level since October 2008. In addition, average earnings (ex bonus), the BoE’s new focus, edged up 0.1% to 0.7% in July and still stands much lower than the rate of inflation (CPI came in at 1.5% YoY in August).

The BoE minutes [of MPC Sep 3-4 meeting] showed once again that two policymakers – Ian McCafferty and Martin Wheale – voted to raise interest rates [by 0.25%] this month, leaving the central bank divided (7-2) for the second consecutive time. The implied rate of March15 Short Sterling futures contract (white line) is trading 8bps higher from last week’s low, bringing the value of the British pound with him (see Cable in green line).

On the top of that, the pound benefitted from 3 opinion polls suggesting that 52% of Scots will vote ‘No’ to independence…

Stirsandcable

(Source: Bloomberg)

Standard Bank on T-LTROs: The market expects the first TLTRO tomorrow to generate around EUR175bn of demand from euro zone banks.

GBP showing some ‘fatigue’

After one year of shine, it feels that the British pound has entered into a bearish momentum. The currency, which used to be the market’s darling, is now down 2.20% against the greenback since its high on July 15 (1.7191 according to Reuters).
With the Fed ‘waking up’ (at least US policymakers more confident than in H1 this year) and strong macro US fundamentals (GDP Q2 first estimates at 4.0%, ISM Mfg PMI at 58.2 and six consecutive months of NFP prints above the 200-level), the US Dollar has remained traders’ favourite currency to hold over the past three weeks. While LT US yields struggle to rise in this high-pressure geopolitical environment, with the 10-year yield still trading below the 2.50% level, the USD index is now back to its January levels trading at 81.31.

On the UK side: We saw lately that the IMF raised its forecast for Britain’s economic growth (for the second time this year) by 0.4% to 3.2% in 2014 (and by 0.2% to 2.7% in 2015). However, there have been a few disappointing UK figures in the last couple of weeks which halted the GBP rally and played in favour of the US Dollar. For instance, the Markit Mfg PMI printed lower than expected at 55.4 (vs 57.2 consensus) in July and Manufacturing Output recorded a surprise fall of 1.3% in May (MoM), its biggest decline since January 2013 according to the ONS.

STIRs: the 2-year UK-US yield spread eased from 44.3 bps in early to 32.6bps, and the short-sterling Futures contract March 2015 is now trading at 99.0, which means that the implied rate is down 17bps at 1%, adding pressure on the British pound.

If we have a look at the IMM market, the net ‘speculative’ long sterling positions fell to 24.9K contracts (from 27.5) in the Commitment of Traders (CoT) report ending July 29. There are down from 56.4K recorded on July 1.

cot-british_pound_sterling

(Source: COT Forex – CFTC’s Commitments of Traders)

Technical chart
If we look at the chart below, we can see that Cable closed the week below its 100-day SMA (in blue) and is now trading 40 pips below it at 1.6821 for the first time in one year. As we said it earlier, the trend looks bearish; the next support on the downside stands at 1.6700.

GBP

(Source: Reuters)

Figures to watch this week: Manufacturing/Industrial output on Wednesday (Aug 6) and Bank Of England meeting on Thursday (Aug 7).

Markets after Yellen…

There have been some interesting developments for the past few days in the middle of this low-volatile environment. Firstly, Fed Chair Yellen opened two days of testimony on Capitol Hill yesterday, delivering the central bank’s semi-annual report to Congress. With the QE-Taper to end in October (already priced in), the market was waiting for more details concerning the ‘future path’ of the Fed Funds target rate (currently at a historical low of 0-0.25%). Despite strong employment data with Non-Farm Payrolls printing above the 200K level for the fifth month in a row in June (288K) and the jobless rate that edged down by another 0.2% to 6.1% (2008 levels), Yellen clearly stated that the US economic recovery ‘is not yet complete’ with the housing market showing ‘little progress’ but still disappointing this year.

However, she surprised the market a bit when she told the Senate Banking Committee that rates could rise sooner than planned. These comments ‘kind-of’ played in favour of the US Dollar, with USD index trading 80.50 at the moment. Its main component, the Euro (57.6%), broke out of his tight 1.3575 – 1.3675 range and is now trading at 1.3540 (see chart below). The next support on the downside stands at 1.3520, the 38.2% Fibonacci retracement of 1.2750 (July 2013 low) and 1.3992 (May 2014 high).

EUR-16-Jul

(Source: Reuters)

The second interesting development was the higher-than-expected CPI figures in UK that gave a boost to Cable after its last two weeks of weakening momentum. Annual inflation came in at 1.9% YoY in June (vs expectations of a 1.6% print), while CPI MoM increased by 0.2% (vs -0.1% consensus). It reinforced the market’s view that the BoE will be the first major central bank to lift rates. Even though some analysts are expecting a first move from UK policymakers later this year, we personally think that Q1 2015 sounds more reasonable. If we have a look at short-sterling interest rate futures, the March 2015 contracts sold off to 98.91 from 98.97, which means that the implied yield from 103bp to 109bp. Earlier this morning, UK claimant counts fell by 36.3K in June, following a revised 32.8K drop registered in May. The jobless rate edged down to 6.5% as expected.

After it reached a high of 1.7191 yesterday afternoon, Cable remains poised for a break above 1.7200 and is now trading at 1.7125. The first support on the downside stands at 1.7100, followed by 1.7060. A more interesting pair would be EUR/GBP, which is now trading at a 22-month low at 0.7900 and is approaching its next support at 0.7880 (see chart below).

EURGBP-16-Jul

(Source: Reuters)

Another surprise came from New Zealand where inflation accelerated less than expected, easing pressure on the RBNZ to continue its monetary policy tightening cycle. As a reminder, the central bank has increased its overnight cash rate (OCR) three times to 3.25% since the beginning of the year, and the market is still expecting a 25bps rate hike at the next meeting on July 23rd. We felt that the Kiwi strength would probably weigh on NZ policymakers’ decision at the next meeting, therefore we were expecting a correction on NZD (see our last trade short NZD/JPY). It was also interesting to play a technical bear correction on NZD/USD when the pair was flirting with its 3-year high as you can see it on the chart below.

NZD-16Jul

(Source: Reuters)

Quick update on BoJ and the Yen: USDJPY continues to trade sideways after the BoJ decided to keep its monetary policy unchanged (as expected), maintaining its target of increasing the monetary base at a annual pace of JPY60-70tr per year. The central bank cut its 2014 growth prediction to 1.0% (down from 1.1% last meeting and from 1.5% last October), but the board (9 members) unanimously maintained its inflation projection of 1.9% in the next fiscal year. If we have a quick look at the chart below, USDJPY is still trading within its tight 101.00 – 103.00 range. It found support slightly above the 101.00 level last week and seems on its way to test its next resistance at 101.94 (200-day SMA).

JPY-16-Jul

(Source: Reuters)

To finish, another currency AUDUSD that we have been trying to play lately is AUDUSD. The RBA minutes didn’t surprise the market on Tuesday despite AU policymakers’ willingness to see a lower Aussie (the minutes stated ‘the exchange rate remained high by historical standards’). We still think it is interesting to go short AUDUSD if the pair trades above 0.9400, with a medium term target at 0.9200 and a stop loss above 0.9560.

AUD-16Jul

(Souce: Reuters)