Macro 1: Japan and Abenomics

We kick these series of macro updates by an analysis on Japan’s current situation. As you can see it on the chart below, the Nikkei index plummeted 14.50% since December’s high, hitting a low of 16,017 last week (20% drawdown from peak to trough). If we look at the chart below, it seems we entered a bear market in Japan and market participants could still consider the recent spike as quick oversold recovery.


(Source: Bloomberg)

The Yen also reacted to this market headwinds and USDJPY was pushed down to 116 last Wednesday (its August support). One thing that surprises me and captivates me at the same time is the correlation’s strength between all asset classes. For instance, if we look at the chart below shows the moves of Oil (WTI Feb16 contract in yellow) and the SP500 Index (Green line). The amount of pressure that the commodity decline has caused to the overall market is excessive and has put a lot of nations in trouble.

Yen and Rest.jpg

(Source: Bloomberg)

If we have a look at fundamentals, Japan seems to be in a liquidity trap. The BoJ’s balance sheet total asset has surged by 143% [to JPY386tr] since December 2012 and the central bank is currently purchasing 80tr Yen of JGBs every month. It’s has been almost three years that Japan is engaged into a massive stimulus programme, which hasn’t had the expected effect. GDP grew modestly by 0.3% QoQ in the third quarter (avoiding a quintuple-dip recession after a first estimate of -0.2%) and the core inflation rate increased 0.10% YoY in November of 2015, ending a 3-month deflation period but still far from the 2-percent target set by Abe and Kuroda. It is hard to believe that after all the effort (mostly money printing), the situation hasn’t changed much. The question is ‘what would happen if the equity market falls to lower levels and the Yen appreciated further?’ What are Japan’s options?



(Source: Trading economics)

We remember one article we read last October from Alhambra Investment Partners, which was talking about the Japanese QE. The chart below reviews all the QEs implemented since the GFC and how the BoJ reacted each time it had a difficult macro situation (i.e. low inflation, stagnating equities, zero-growth…). As you can see, Japan has constantly increase its QE size little by little until Abe was elected In December 2012 and went all-in by starting its QQME stimulus on April 3rd 2013. As Ray Dalio said in many interviews (when he talks about the Fed), the effect of QE diminishes if credit spreads are already close to zero (and asset prices already ‘inflated’), therefore additional measures will constantly be less effective than in the past (‘central banks have the power to tighten, but very little power to ease’). We believe this is exactly where Japan stands at the moment, giving Abe (and Kuroda and Aso) a harsh time.


(Source: Alhambra Investment Partners)

Another BoJ’s important indicator is the Japanese workers’ real wages, which went back into the negative territory, declining 0.4% YoY in November and marking the first fall since June 2015 according to the Ministry of Finance. Despite PM Abe’s hard work pushing companies to increase wages in order to fuel household consumption, household spending dropped by 2.9% in November and has been contracting most of the months over the past 2 years.


(Source: Trading economics)

With a debt-to-GDP ratio sitting at 230%, one chart we liked that was published in a Bloomberg post showed the ‘growing dominance’ of the BoJ. The central bank held 30.3% of the country’s sovereign debt (as of September 2015), more than any investor class. For instance, the chart below shows the evolution of the holdings of both the BoJ and Financial Institutions (ex. Insurers); at  the start of the QQME, BoJ holdings were 13.2% vs. 42.4% for Financial Institutions. How long can this story continue?


(Source: Bloomberg)


Japan update: Abenomics 2.0

As a sort of casual week end ‘routine’, I was watching the cross assets chart of the main economies that I usually follow. There are so many things that are happening at the moment, however a little update on Japan is always refreshing and useful.

The chart below shows the evolution of the equity market (Nikkei 225 index, Candles) overlaid with USDJPY (green line). As you can see, since Abe came into power in December 2012, there has been a sort of Pavlovian response to the massive monetary stimulus: currency depreciation has led to higher equities. However, the Nikkei 225 index closed at 17,725 on Friday and is down almost 15% from a high of 21,000 reached on August 11, whereas the currency has stabilized at around 120 and has been trading sideways over the past month with an 1-month ATM implied volatility down from 13.2 to 10.6% over the same period. If we look at the 20-day correlation (that I like to watch quite a bit) between the two asset classes, we are down from a high of 89% reached on August 24th to 38.1% in the last observation with an equity market being much more volatile.


(Source: Bloomberg)

In article I wrote back in September 2014 entitled The JPY and some overnight developments, I commented a bit on how Japanese Pension Funds (GPIF in my example) were decreasing their bonds allocation and switching to equities. And the questions I ask myself all the time is ‘Can the BoJ (and the other major CBs) lose against the equity market today?’ Indeed, the GPIF, which manages about $1.15 in assets, suffered a 9.4tr Yen loss between July and September according to Nomura Securities.

Abenomics 1.0 update…

We saw lately that Japan printed a negative GDP of 0.3% QoQ in the second quarter of 2015 and is potentially heading for a Quintuple-Dip recession in 7 years. In addition, the economy returned to deflation (for the first time since 2013) if we look at the CPI Nationwide Ex Fresh Food (-0.1% YoY in August, down from 3.4% in May 2014). We know that deflation and recession were both factors that Abe has been trying to fight and avoid, and the question is now ‘What is the next move?’

In a press conference on September 24th, PM Abe announced a sort-of new ‘arrow’ where the plan is to achieve a GDP target of 600 trillion Yen in the coming years (no specific time horizon mentioned as far as I know), which is 20% more from where the economy stands at the moment (JPY 500tr). In addition, he also target to increase the birth rate to 1.8 children per woman from the current low rate of 1.4 in order to make sure that the Japanese population don’t fall below 100 million in 50 years (from approximately 126 million today).

Clearly, this new announcement shows that the three-arrow plan has failed for the moment, and the BoJ only has been the major player in order to inflate prices over the past few years. I am wondering how this new plan is going to work in the middle of the recent EM economic turmoil. My view goes for additional stimulus, another 10 trillion Yen on the table which will bring the QQME program to a total of 90 trillion Yen. If you think about it, the BoJ is currently running a QE program almost as much as big as the Fed’s one in 2013 (85bn USD a month, 1 trillion USD per year) for an economy three times smaller than the US. Deceptions coming from Kuroda (i.e. no additional printing) could strengthen the Yen a little bit, but this will be seen as a new buying opportunities for traders or investors looking at the 135 medium-term retracement (against the US Dollar).

Here are a few figures and ratios to keep in my mind in the medium-term future…

Bank of Japan Total Assets

According to Bloomberg’s BJACTOTL Index, the BoJ’s balance sheet total assets increased by 210tr Yen since December 2012 and now stands at 368tr Yen. With an economy estimated at roughly 500tr Yen, the BoJ-total-assets-to-GDP ratio stands now at 73.6%.


(Source: Bloomberg)

Japan Banks total Assets

As of Q1 2015, the Japanese Banks reported a 1,818 trillion Yen exposure, which represents 363% as a share of the country’s GDP.


(Source: Bloomberg)

Based on the figures, you clearly understand that Japan’s government has been trying to push savers into stocks so Mrs Watanabe can take part of this artificial asset price inflation. However, a recent study from the Bank of Japan showed that Japanese households still had 52% of their assets in cash and bank deposits as of March 2015 (vs 13% for the American for instance).

The 15-percent recent drawdown in the equity market clearly shows sign of persistent ‘macro tourists’ investors, who are giving Abe and the BoJ board a hard time.

To conclude, the situation is still complicated in Japan, which is hard to believe based on the figures I just showed you. I strongly believe that Abe cannot fail in his plan, therefore if the new arrow needs more stimulus (which it does), we could see another 10 to 15 trillion on the table in the coming months. The medium term key level on USDJPY stands at 135, which brings us back to the high of March 2002.

The Fed’s 2015 dilemma: Equity market VS Oil prices

Even though the FX market is usually considered as an esoteric asset class, it happens that a lot of opportunities were in currencies last year. I mainly think about the Yen and the Euro, but the chart shows the main currency performances against the Dollar.


(Source: Hard Assets Investors)

We saw a couple of weeks ago that the economy increased at an annual rate of 5 percent according to the third estimates, the highest print since Q3 2003 when GDP rose by an outstanding 6.9.%. In addition, we saw in October that the final numbers for FY2014 federal deficit was $486bn (or 2.8% as a share of GDP), $197bn lower than the $680bn recorded in FY2013 and the lowest deficit since 2008 as you can see it on the chart below.


(Source: CBO)

On the top of that, the unemployment rate stands at a multi-year low of 5.8%, down 2.1% over the past couple of year. The only scary figures is US debt [like any other country], which now stands at a record high of 18tr+ USD, up 70% under Obama (10.6tr USD back in January 2009).

Another Good Year for equities…

I have to admit that with the Fed’s exit at the end of October, I was a bit anxious on the consequences it could have on the equity market, especially after the several ‘swings’ we saw (January, October). In my article Could we survive without QE (Part II with US yields), I added a chart (S&P 500) where you can see the impact on the equities each time the Fed stepped out of the bond market. Clearly not good.

But it didn’t. And after the 2013 thirty-percent rally, the S&P500 increased by another 11 percent in 2014 [and closed at records 53 times].

It looks to me that there are a lot of positive facts and the Fed can eventually start its tightening cycle. However, the collapse in oil prices will weigh on US policymakers’ decision in my opinion.

I think the question now is: which one will weigh more on US policymakers’ decision to tighten (or not)?

I strongly believe that the two main indicators the central bank is watching are the equity market and oil prices. An increasing equity market tends to have a positive effect on consumer spending (through the wealth effect). As a reminder, consumer spending represents 60 to 70 percent of GDP for most of the well-developed economies.

However, falling oil prices, with now Crude Oil WTI Feb15 Futures trading at $51.80 per barrel, is problematic. First of all, problematic for oil exporters’ countries (i.e. Chart of the Day: Oil Breakeven prices). We saw lately that Saudi Arabia announced that it will face a deficit of $38.6bn in FY2015, its first one since 2011 and the largest in its history (no projected oil price was included in the 2015 budget, but some analysts estimated that the Kingdom is projecting a price of $55-$60 per barrel).

I am just back from Kuwait City where I met a few investors there with a friend of mine (Business Developer in the Middle East), and most of them agreed that there were comfortable with a barrel at $60.

To me, falling oil prices reflect the weakening global demand and real economy effects. With the Chinese economy slowing down (GDP growth rate of 7.3% in Q3 is the slowest in five years), major economies back into recession (Triple-dip recession for Italy and Japan) and rising geopolitical instability, forecasts are constantly reviewed lower and problematic for debt stability [and sustainability]. I like the chart below (Source: ZeroHedge) which clearly explains that oil prices and global demand are moving together. In fact, lower growth projections combined with low oil prices and [scary] low yields are problematic for the Fed.


(Source: ZeroHedge)

Moreover, falling oil prices is problematic as it will drive US [and global] inflation lower. The inflation rate is slowing in most of the developed economies: in November, UK inflation fell to a 12-year low of 1% in November, EZ policymakers are still working on how to counter rising deflation threat (prices eased to a 5-year low of 0.3%) and US CPI fell at the steepest rate in almost six years to 1.3%. Most of the countries whose central banks target inflation are below their target.

2015: New Board, new doves…

In addition, as you can see it below, the ‘hawks’ members – Fisher and Plosser – are out this year and this could change the tenor of debate within US central bank’s policy-setting committee.


(Source: Deutsche Bank)

Japan and the Yen, where do we stand now?

On October 31st, Governor Kuroda announced that the BoJ will raise (by a 5-4 majority vote) its bond-buying program. We saw the reaction since then; USDJPY soared from 112+ then to 120 (with a high of 121.86 on December 7). Some analysts think that the move was/is exaggerated, but if you put the figures on table, it looks reasonable to me. By announcing that the Bank of Japan will buy between 8 and 12 trillion JPY of JGBs each month, it means that it will purchase the total 10tr Yen of new bonds issued by the Ministry of Finance; in other words, full monetization. As a reminder, the central bank is the largest single holder of JGBs (with 20%+ of the shares), and could end up owing half of the JP bond market within the next 3 to 4 years.

With the country now in a triple-dip recession (GDP contracted by 1.9% in the third quarter) and the inflation rate slowing down for the fourth consecutive month in November (core CPI, which excludes volatile fresh food but include oil products, rose 2.7% in November, down from 2.9% in September and 3% in October), I see just more ‘power’ coming from Japanese policymakers. Elected in December 2012 as Japan PM (the seventh one in the last decade), I am convinced that Abe (and Kuroda/Aso) cannot fail this time and will (and must) continue to go ‘all-in- on his plan. That will mean aggressive easing, therefore constant depreciation of the currency JPY in the MT/LT. Remember the graph I like to watch: Central Bank’s total assets as a percent of the country’s GDP (see article It is all about CBs).

In fact, as many analysts have stated, the hit from the sales tax increase back in April turned out to be bigger than expected. The second one, which was set for October 2015 and would have seen a 2-percent rise to 10 percent, has already been postponed for early 2017 according to Abe’s announcement last month. When will the country work on its budget balance? As a reminder, Japan has been showing a 8%+ budget deficit over the past six years, which rose the level of its debt to a ‘unsustainable’ 230% as a share of GDP.

Another major problem that the third-largest economy will have to deal with in the long term is its population. The chart below (Source: the Economist) shows the evolution of Japan’s population from 1950 to 2055 (forecast). It is aging, and that is terrible news for all the pension or mutual funds as many people from the Japanese workforce will switch from being net savers to net spenders.

20141213_gdc700(Source: the Economist)

With a population of 127 million in 2013, the number of people is expected to fall below 100 million by the middle of this century due to the low birth of rate (total fertility rate of 1.4 in 2013).

In my article last month on the Japanese Yen History, I added a quick ‘technical’ chart and stated that we may see some take profit a 120 and that the pair should stabilize at around that level based on the downtrend line. And each time I have some discussion about the Yen, I always say there are two ways to play it:
– either keep it short (against USD or GBP) for those who are looking for a medium or long term view;
– or buy the pair (USDJPY) on dips if you try to catch nice trends. Don’t try to short it, unless you are really confident and have been doing it for a while. All traders I know are looking for buying opportunities on the pair.

Speaking of that, it looks to me that the core portfolio I have been carrying over the past few months now – Short EUR (1/2) , JPY (1/2) vs. long USD (2/3) and GBP (1/3) – has been quite profitable, and I still believe there is more room. At least, it makes sense on the idea I had about ‘monetary policy divergence’, with the US and UK considering raising rates (no printing/QE) while EZ and Japan aggressively printing with NIRP/ZIRP monetary policies. I will try to write a piece shortly on the Euro while I am working on my 2015 outlook.

Happy October: End of POMO

As October is the Fed’s POMO – Permanent Open Market Operations – last month (as it is mine in Hambros), we will see how the equity market will deal in a period with no QE. The NY Fed released yesterday its purchase operations for the month of October (as you can see it below), stating that the central bank will buy approximately $10bn worth of Treasury securities on an outright basis.

Starting October 28th (the first day of the next FOMC meeting), the equity bulls will start to rely on fundamentals once again. As we say, will this time be different?


(Source: NY Fed)

The market has switched to a risk-off mode for the past couple of weeks with the S&P 500 struggling to trade above the 2,000 level. As you can see it on the chart below, the index (purple line)  is down 2.2% from its September’s high of 2,018.21 (Sep 19th) and AUD/JPY (black bar) is back below the 96.00 level (down 2% as well) and has been fluctuating within a 100-pip range for the past week.


(Source: Reuters)

Earlier this morning, both Germany and UK released a lower than expected manufacturing PMI, coming in at 49.9 (vs 50.3 expected) and 51.6 respectively (vs 52.5 expected). France reported its budget deficit forecasts for the next few years, and the government sees deficit falling to 4.3% of GDP in 2015 (from 4.4% this year), 3.8% in 2016 and eventually somewhere below  the 3% threshold in 2017 (optimistic?).

EUR/USD was little sold this morning after the macro news (1.2584 is today’s low) and is now trading back above the 1.2600 level. Cable hit its 1.6160 support, the 76.4% Fibo retracement of 1.6050 – 1.6526 (as we reported yesterday) before coming back to 1.6200.


(Source: Reuters)

This afternoon, the market will watch West fundamentals with Mortgage Applications, ISM Mfg PMI and ADP National Employment  in the US and Canadian PMI. We don’t see any major developments in the FX market as the market is now focused on tomorrow’s ECB meeting and Friday’s NFP.

Japan, the Yen and the Aussie

Three days ago, we saw that Japanese GDP contraction in the second quarter was revised to an annualized 7.1% QoQ (vs. 6.8% previously), shrinking at its fastest pace in more than five years, due to a deeper decline in consumer spending and a bigger fall in capital expenditure (money used to purchase, upgrade, improve or extend the life of LT assets). In addition, the Ministry of Finance reported that the country showed market a current account surplus of 416.7bn Yen in July (slightly less that 444bn expected and 30% down compare to July last year) as the income from foreign investments (up 2.8% to 1.853tr Yen) outweighed the trade deficit (964bn deficit Yen in July, August one to be released on Sep 17th).

While the unemployment has fallen quite sharply since Abe’s election (4.5% in Dec 2012) to 3.8% in August, real wages have constantly been declining over the past few years (they fell by 3.8% YoY in May, the sharpest decline in years). One explanation of the fall in real wages we read lately (The Economist, Feeling the pinch) was that Japan’s labour market is divided between two sorts of employees, regular ones who are usually highly paid and protected [against being fired] and the non-regular [low-paid] ones. If you have a look at the figures, non-regular workers accounted for 36.8% of all jobs in June, a high number compare to historical standards and therefore confirming that most jobs created since Abe took office were non-regular workers.

This definitely explains weakening figures in household spending. We saw that July Household Spending fell 5.9% YoY, twice what economists expected, printing in the negative territory for the fourth time in a row. As a reminder, Japan is a consumer-driven economy (61% as a percentage of GDP in 2012 according to the World Bank); therefore the BoJ will watch closely those figures in order to avoid another dismal quarter.

However, according to the Bank of Japan Deputy Governor Kikuo Iwata, the economy is ‘gradually recovering’ and it is all about the sales tax increase effect. Moreover, with the BoJ now monetizing debt at negative rates (T-Bill 12/08/2014 has been trading in the negative territory for the past few days as you can see it in the chart below), Iwata added that he didn’t see ‘any difficulties in money market operations’.


(Source: Bloomberg)

Quick review on USD/JPY

The recent surge in the stock market (Nikkei up 1,000 pts over the past month, closing at 15,788.78 earlier this morning) mainly coming from ‘more QE coming soon’ speculation combined with demand for international securities (Bonds, Stock) from Japanese funds have both played in favour of the depreciation of the Yen lately since it broke out of its 101 – 103 range on August 20. In addition, with US yields starting to ‘surge’ (10-year yield up 20bps over the past two weeks and now trading at 2.53%), USDJPY was sent up to 106.85 during today’s trading session, breaking its resistance of 105.44 (Jan 2nd high) and trading to levels seen back in September 2008. If the depreciation continues, the next MT target on the pair stands at 110.

Aussie updates…

AUDJPY (black bar) eased a bit from last week’s [16-month] high of 98.65, down more than a 100 pips (carry trade unwinds combined with AUD selling from corporate and macro names), taking the equity market (red line) with ‘him’ (S&P closed below the 2,000 level at 1,988).


(Source: Reuters)

The AU benchmark (S&P/ASX) index came back to a 3-1/2 week low after Westpac’s index of consumer sentiment reported a 4.6% decline in September, bringing the Aussie below the 0.9200 support against the greenback.

AUDUSD is also trading below its 200-day MA (0.9180) for the first time in five months. Market has turned bearish on the pair as the failure to hold the 0.9180 – 0.9200 support area has opened up further retracements levels: 0.9075 (61.8% Fibo retracement of 0.8658 – 0.9756), followed by 0.9030. Australia will report employment figures overnight (2.30 am), which traders expect to be disappointing, therefore sending the Aussie to lower levels.


(Source: Reuters)

Watch the correlations…

As EURCHF is barely moving, trading within a 60-pip range (1.2120 – 1.2180) over the past month and a half, EURUSD and USDCHF continues to trade almost ‘perfectly inversely’. Over the past the 18 months, the correlation between the two pairs stands at -97%. The ECB’s May conference followed by the introduction of a package of ‘easing’ measures from ECB policymakers have triggered a Dollar Strength environment. As you can see it on the chart below, EURUSD (black bar) is down 6.5 figures while USDCHF (orange bar) is now trading almost 4 figures higher at 0.9075.

In addition, the 6 consecutive NFP prints above the 200K level and a better-than-expected GDP print (Q2 GDP first estimate came in at 4.0%) played in favour of the US Dollar over the past few months. Yellen sounded quite hawkish at her last testimony in front of the Congress, and it seems that US policymakers have regained some confidence concerning their ST monetary policy (according to the July FOMC meeting).

However, it didn’t take too long to see weak figures again. Yesterday, Mortgage applications fell 2.7% in the week ended August 8. The smoothed 4-week moving average is now back to September 2000 levels despite lower Mortgage rates (30-year Mortgage Rate is now stands at 4.35%, down from 4.7% in January). Moreover, we saw slightly later that retail sales missed expectations for the third month in a row with an unchanged flat print in July (vs. expectations of a 0.2% rise and down from the 1.5% growth rate seen in March). With retail sales accounting for one third of consumer spending in the US, the IMF cut once again (end of July) its 2014 growth forecast from 2.0% to 1.7% after the National Retail Federation cut its 2014 retail sales growth outlook from 4.1% to 3.6% (Winter blamed).

If we have a look at the chart below, we can see that the US Dollar has been stable since the beginning of August. We are pretty much bearish on the Euro based on poor fundamentals (Q2 GDP first estimates disappoints again and came in at 0.0%) and aggressive ECB easing; our EURUSD medium term target (H2 2014) stands at 1.3000, which corresponds to July 2013 levels. Investors could potentially fly to the Swissie in the middle of this high-pressure geopolitical environment. We think that EURCHF is on its ‘slow’ way to test the 1.2000 SNB once again. Therefore, with a EURUSD target at 1.3000 and EURCHF at 1.2000, it gives us a USDCHF MT target at 0.9200.


(Source: Reuters)

Watch the Yen

USDJPY is flirting with its 200-day SMA at 101.67 after US GDP disaster… US GDP printed at -2.9% Ann. QoQ (far from the -1.8% expected and well below the first economists’ ‘projection’ of +2.6%).
A break on the downside could bring us to the next strong support at 100.75.


(Source: Reuters)

If we have a quick look at EURJPY, we can see that since the pair closed below its 200-day on June 11, it has been unable to resurface above it. The 200MA stands now at 139.00 and EURJPY trades within a tight range 138.57 – 138.90 today.


(Source: Reuters)

Update on UK and Cable…

The storm on the Euro also impacted the value of the British pound after Draghi’s speech in Brussels last month. Cable is now approaching its strong psychological support level at 1.6700 where there could potentially be some ‘buyers on dip’.

On the UK side, the BoE MPC met on Thursday but as expected nothing new concerning its monetary policy was released. The BoE is still seen as the first major bank to start raising rates in early 2015 (probably Q2); therefore investors are still interested in playing the monetary policies divergence between the major central banks (short EUR/GBP is a popular medium term position to hold at the moment). In addition, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) estimated today that the UK economy have eventually surpassed the pre-recession peak it reached in January 2008 after more than 6 years. NIESR are forecasting a 0.9% growth in the March-May period (tight slowdown compared to the 1.1% estimated between February and April), which would mean that the level of UK GDP stands 0.2% above where it was in January 2008. With an economy that almost faced a triple-dip recession in 2013, Britain has taken much longer time to recover compare to other ‘strong’ economies such as Germany or the US (both returned to pre-cisis level in 2010).

If we have a quick look at the economic indicators, we saw last week that Manufacturing, Construction and Services PMIs all stood well above the 50 (expansion / contraction) level at 57.0, 60.0 and 58.6 respectively. Moreover, industrial and manufacturing output both came in higher-than-expected at 3.0% YoY (vs 2.8% expected) and 4.4% YoY (vs 4.0% consensus) in April.

The rebound we have since in the US yields since the lows reached in the end of May helped the greenback recover against the major currencies this week. The graph below shows you one of Cable’s main drivers, the 2-year UK-US spread (in red). As you can see it, the spread narrowed by 10 bps since the end of May and now sits at 0.291%, which pushed Cable (in Yellow) down by 120 pips to 1.6750.


(Source: Reuters)

Based on this analysis, we will try to buy Cable at around 1.6720/30 for a test back towards 1.6800 (at first) with a stop loss at 1.6680 (below its 100-day MA at 1.6688).