Weekly Chart: Cable vs. 2Y UK – US IR Differential

As for EURUSD and the 10Y interest rate (IR) spread (here) or for USDJPY versus the equity market (TOPIX, see here), the same interesting divergence has been occurring between Cable and the 2Y IR differential. We mentioned in many of our posts that the interest rate differential (either short term 2Y or long term 10Y) has been considered as one of the main drivers of a currency pair for a long time. For instance, in our BEER FX Model, we used the terms-of-trades, inflation and the 10-year interest rates differentials for our cross-sectional study, using the US Dollar as the base country and currency (see post here).

Hence, if you look back over the past few years, there is a significant co-movement between the two times series. As you know, the ST 2Y IR differential reflects the expected announcements from either UK or US policymakers concerning the future path of the target IR set by the central bank. For instance, between summer 2013 (when Governor Carney took office at the BoE) and summer 2014, the 2Y IR differential went up from 0 to 45bps on the back of strong UK fundamentals (fastest growing economy in G7 in 2014) and market participants starting to price in a rate hike as early as Q4 2014 or Q1 2015 according to the short-sterling futures contract (see July 2014 update). The increase of both the 2Y IR differential and the short-sterling futures implied rate brought Cable to its highest level since October 2008 at 1.72 in July 2014. However, both trends reversed that summer with the US Dollar waking up from its LT coma and the UK starting to show some weaknesses in its fundamentals. At that time, we entered a 2Y+ Cable bear market, and if we omit the pound ‘flash crash’ in early October 2016 and set the low at 1.20, Cable experienced a 30-percent depreciation. Therefore, this fall moved the British pound from being a slightly overvalued currency to a clearly undervalued currency if we look at some broad measures such as the real effective exchange rate (REER). According to the REER, the Pound is 15% far away from its 23Y LT average (GBP REER).

If we look at the last quarter of 2017, despite a 50bps drop in the 2Y differential (currently trading at -1.44%), Cable found support slightly below its 100D SMA each time and the pair has shown strong momentum since the beginning of the year. We believe that the strong decrease in the IR differential lately comes from an (over) confident market pricing in three Fed hikes next year (probability of 4 or more rate hikes stands at 9% in 2018). However, we think that this current excitement may slow down in Q1 2018, hence readjust the IR differentials, which is going to be positive for the British pound against the greenback. In our view, the 1.40 level seems reasonable for Cable in the medium term (1-3M), which corresponds to the 38.2% Fibonacci retracement of the 1.20 – 1.72 range.

Chart: GBPUSD vs. 2Y IR differential (blue line, rhs) Source: Reuters Eikon

Cablevs2Y.PNG

Retracing the US Dollar Q4 rise…

An important topic that has been making the headline over the past few weeks is the new surge of the US Dollar (vis-à-vis the major currencies) in the last quarter of 2016. Since its Obama Rise peak that occurred in mid-March 2015 (after a 25% appreciation), the US Dollar has been ranging against most of the major currencies (except the British pound due to political uncertainty and post-Brexit effect in June, and more recently the Mexican peso). The main reason for that long period of stagnation, in my opinion, was a shift in expectations of monetary policy in the US. After the Fed stepped out of the Bond Market (on October 28th 2014), market’s participants have been mainly focusing on the short-end of the curve, questioning themselves if the Fed was going to start a tightening monetary policy cycle. We saw a hike in December 2015 (25bps), which was immediately halted due to the market sell-off that followed afterwards (13% drawdown in US equities, 20% in Europe and Japan…). Therefore, the implied probability of a second hike in 2016 crashed, which was confirmed by the 7 FOMC meetings that followed (i.e. status quo).

Then, interest in the US Dollar started to emerge again in Q4 2016; the greenback experienced a 8%+ appreciation between October 1st and its December high of 13.65 (28th) according to the DXY index (Chart 1). There are a number of explanations to that recent surge: market was gradually pricing in a rate hike for the December meeting, political uncertainty rising in Europe or Infinite QE in Japan to protect the yield curve. All these stories make sense to explain the Dollar appreciation, therefore let’s retrace the important events that occurred in the last quarter of 2016.

Chart 1. US Dollar index in 2015-2016 (Source: Bloomberg)

usdollarhis

  1. Higher inflation and a positive post-Trump effect

First of all, the rebound in oil prices relieved pressure on energy-related companies [that have been falling one by one, applying to Chapter 11 bankruptcy] and had a positive effect on expected inflation. The price of a barrel has doubled since its February’s low of $26 and is currently trading slightly below $54 (Chart 2, red line) and obviously relieved US policymakers’ inflation anxiety. The 5Y5Y inflation swap forward (Chart 2, white line) stands now at 2.42%, higher than the 1.80% recorded last June. As a consequence, US long-term yields followed the move and the 10-year Treasury yield surged from a low of 1.36% reached in July last year to 2.44% today. With the unemployment rate below 5% and a Q3 GDP growth of 3.5% (annual QoQ), it seems inflation had been the main concern of the Fed’s officials in order to start tightening [again].

Therefore, on December 14th, US policymakers decide to raise the federal funds rate by 25bps to 0.5%-0.75% [and the discount rate from 1% to 1.25%], repeating a gradual policy path plan with three potential hikes in 2017. Even though it was considered to be the most ‘priced in’ hike of any Fed meeting ever, it pushed the implied rates to the upside with the current OIS (Chart 3, purple line) trading almost 1 percent above the OIS at the September meeting (Chart 3, red line). This change in implied rates was reflected in the Dollar appreciation.

Chart 2. US inflation overlaid with Oil Prices and US 10-year yield (Source: Bloomberg)

inflationus

Chart 3. Fed’s dot plot and implied rates (Source: Bloomberg)

FedPlot.JPG

We were not very surprised when the Fed officials announced the rate hike, however we were wondering if we would have seen such optimism if equity markets ‘followed’ the global bond sell-off after the election (Trump effect). The positive US equity market reaction to Trump’s victory also comforted US policymakers for the December’s hike; we strongly believe that the decision would have been much harder if they had to deal with a sudden equity sell-off. Instead, the SP500 reached new record highs (2,277) last months.

One explanation of this development is based on investors’ expectation of an expansionary fiscal policy that will boost economic growth and inflation in the future, which are usually positive news for equities and negative news for bonds in theory (see Four Quadrants matrix – image 1).

Image 1. The ‘Four Quadrants’ framework (Source: Gavekal Research)

  Quandrant.png

   2. Political uncertainty rising in Europe, the rigger of many ‘forgotten’ problems

A popular trade that was running in the last quarter of 2016 was to be long the Italian-German 10-year spread ahead of the Italian referendum that occurred on December 4th. Market was pricing a potential rejection (55% chance), leading to an increase in political uncertainty in Europe, rising spreads between periphery and core and weakening the Euro.

If we look at Chart 4, we can see that the spike in the Italian 10-year yield (Chart 4, white line) could explain the Euro weakness (hence, USD strength). While the 10-year yield increased from 1.20% to 2.20% in two months (October and November), EURUSD (Chart 4, red line, inverted) went down 7 figures and reached a new low of 1.0350 post-referendum (59.1% of voters rejected the reform bill, which was followed immediately by PM Renzi’s resignation).

Even though yields have been decreasing over the past month (the 10-year now standing at 1.73%), political uncertainty could be the trigger of the two ‘delayed’  and ‘forgotten’ issues [or Black Swans] in Europe: the weak banking system and the Sovereign debt crisis. Not only Italy (in this case) cannot survive with higher yields (the country has 2.34 trillion EUR of outstanding debt – 132.6% of GDP – which needs to be rolled with low yields), but a sell-off in equities will increase the percentage of NPLs and potentially forced their banks to bail-in their depositors. The failure of Monte Paschi di Siena’s plan to raise 5-billion euros in capital from the market was ‘solved’ by a Nationalization (the bank’s third bailout). It was announced that the government will own at least 75% of the common equity after the bank is nationalized, a rescue that will cost the Italian government (i.e. taxpayers) about 6.6bn Euros according to the ECB (4.6bn Euros are needed to meet capital requirements and 2bn Euros to compensate the retail bondholders).

Therefore, We strongly believe that we will hear other similar stories in the year to come, as Italy is not the only country facing non-performing loans (NPLs) issues that affect the banking sector. Therefore, political uncertainty in Europe will weigh on the single currency and increase investors’ interest to the US Dollar.

Chart 4. Italian 10-year yield versus EURUSD (inv.) (Source: Bloomberg)

ItalyandEuro.JPG

   3. The weakness in the Japanese Yen

In Japan, the BoJ introduced the ‘Yield Control’ operation in order to stabilize the steepness of the JGB yield curve, offering to buy an unlimited amount of debt at fixed yields to prevent a significant surge in rates. This is kind of a puzzle, as Japan Officials cannot afford higher yields [as many indebted developed nations], however too-low yields impact revenues of the banking system and the pension / mutual funds.

We don’t think the particular surge in USDJPY was explained by this new ‘BoJ Operation’ and We prefer to say that the Yen depreciation was a result of a Risk-on effect post-US election result in addition to the recent spike in US yields. USDJPY (Chart 5, candlesticks) trades above 117 and equities (Chart 5, red line) are above the 19,000 level for the first time since September 2015; and you can see how the increase in US yields (Chart 5, blue line) is ‘responsible’ to the Yen weakness.

The question now is to know if the late Q4 Yen weakness will persist in early 2017, with USDJPY pair attracting more and more momentum investors looking to hit the 125 resistance. We know historically that the [positive] trend on the USDJPY can halt [and reverse] very quickly if investors are suddenly skeptical about the global macro situation (Fed delaying its 2017 hike path, China liquidity issues or rising yields in peripheral European countries). On the top of that, if market starts to price in inflation in 2017, will the BoJ be able to counter a JGB tantrum and keep the 10-year JGB yield at around 0%?

One important thing about this recent Yen weakness though is that it allows the Japanese government to buy time in order to implement new reforms and increase productivity. If you remember well, Abe stated in September 2015 his 20% increase in Japan GDP in the medium term (increase from 500tr to 600tr Yen in 5 years).

Chart 5. USDJPY, Nikkei 225 and US 10-year yield (Source: Bloomberg)

OverallJapan.JPG

   4. The Chinese Yuan devaluation

Another currency that has been making the headlines is the Chinese Yuan. Over the past year, the Chinese Yuan has shed roughly 7 percent of its value against the greenback (Chart 6, USDCNY in candlesticks). At the same FX reserves (Chart 6, blue line) have been shrinking; reserves plunged by $69.1bn to $3.05tr in November (most in 10 months), bringing the reduction in the stockpile to almost USD 1tr from a record $4 trillion reach in June 2014. As Horseman Capital noted in their article on China (Is China running out of money?), if FX reserves continue to plummet and the PBoC wants to maintain control of the exchange rate, Chinese officials will face some difficult choices. One option would be to raise interest rates (the benchmark one-year lending rate stands currently at 4.35%) in order to reduce outflows and attract interest in the Yuan (high interest rate differential vs. the other countries). This would have a negative effect on the country’s growth outlook, which is already concerning the developed economies due to the high levels of corporate debt and overheated property markets. Another option would be to reduce the holding of deposits by cutting the reserve requirement rate (RRR) which stands currently at 17%. We can see in Chart 7 that the Asset-Liabilities spread (represented by Foreign Currency Assets and Deposits from Other banks) has narrowed drastically over the past year, therefore cutting the reserve rates for banks could be a temporary solution for the PBoC. The problem of the second option is that it will continue to weaken the Chinese Yuan vis-à-vis the US Dollar, which could increase political tensions between US and China.

Interestingly, an asset that has [sort-of] tracked the USDCNY move this year is the Bitcoin (Chart 6, red line) , which raised from $400 in January last year to over $1,000 today. The cryptocurrency was described as the ‘good’ instrument to circumvent capital control in China in periods of large capital outflows like today. Like gold, Bitcoin is readily available in China and can be sold for foreign currencies without problems and therefore have attracted a lot of buyers over the past year.

Chart 6. USDCNY, Bitcoin and Chinese FX reserves (Source: Bloomberg)

Chart 7. PBoC Balance Sheet (Source: Horseman Capital)

PBoCBaS.JPG

To conclude, there are several factors explaining the US Dollar strength in the last quarter of 2016, and it looks like the trend should continue in early 2017 (extreme monetary policy divergence to persist in 2017, black swan events coming from Europe, difficulties of Chinese officials to deal with the capital outflows…). However its trend cannot persist indefinitely as we know that it will eventually have negative effect on the US economy in the long term. For instance, we know that a strong dollar hurts US companies’ earnings, which is already a problem if we look at the 12-month forward earnings (Chart 8, green line). In addition, if long-term interest rates increase persistently in the future (breaking through the 3-percent level seen in the 2013 taper tantrum), the US could face a budget crisis: how is the government going to fund its budget deficit [which is expected to grow over USD 1 trillion again under Trump presidency] if China and other central banks are liquidating US Paper at record pace?

Chart 8. SP500 overlaid with 12-month forward earnings (Source: Bloomberg)

ForwardEarnings.JPG

Thoughts on Brexit and European Banks

Brexit and Cable 

We remember that two years ago, the same night of the kick-start of the World Cup in Brazil on June 12th 2014 (Brazil won 3-1 against Croatia), Mark Carney gave a speech at the Mansion House giving an update on the BoE’s monetary policy. At that time, he hinted that interest rates may rise sooner than had been expected; and the market was starting to price in a 25bps hike by the end of Q4 2014. Cable was trading at a (almost) 6-year high ($1.72) in a year when the British economy grew at its fastest pace for nine years at 2.8% (and the fastest-growing major economy in 2014 as you can see below).

(Source: Telegraph)

Two years later, the Official Bank rate is still at 0.5%, Cable is down 24% trading at around 1.33 after hitting a low of 1.2798 last week and the market has been positioned for a rate cut since Brexit in order to re-establish confidence in the UK market. While the BoE disappointed today by keeping the benchmark rate steady at 0.5% (only Gertjan Vlieghe voted for a 25bps cut) and no further easing, markets are pricing in a 80%+ chance of a rate-cut later this year with the September and December Short Sterling futures contract trading at 99.63 and 99.67 respectively (meaning that the implied rates are 37bps and 33bps).

Economists have slashed UK outlook and market participants are now expecting the UK economy to enter into a recession by the end of the year, mainly coming from a contraction in business investment and a sharp decrease in property prices. Major UK property funds (Aviva, M&G, Starndard Life, Aberdeen…) have suspended redemptions blaming uncertainty in the property market following Brexit. Therefore, a Summer Stimulus coming from the BoE could partially solve the UK current problematic situation.

The combination of an expected loose monetary policy in addition to poor fundamentals will continue to add pressure on the British pound in the coming months, and Cable could retest new lows toward 1.25.

A contagion in the European Banking system

We mentioned several times that a European Banking Crisis was one of the major Black Swans that could shake the market for a long period of time mainly due to a rise in the Non-Performing Loans (NPLs). For instance, in Italy, it was reported that 17% of banks’ loans are sour, a total of 360bn Euros of NPLs. To give you an idea, it was ‘only’ 5% in the US during 2008-2009. In consequence, Italian banks have been under attack (once again) with Monte Paschi now trading at 34 cents a share; the oldest surviving bank in the world (and Italian third largest lender) once traded at 93 Euros in May 2007, meaning that its market capitalization plummeted 99.6% in less than a decade. The five-year subordinated CDS is now trading at 1,506bps and the September 2020 subordinated bonds are now trading at 75 cents on the dollar. In response, the European Commission authorized Italy to use 150bn Euros of government guarantees to prevent a potential bank ‘run’ on deposits.

Even though the market has become less sensitive to ‘bad’ news coming from either Greece or Portugal, we strongly believe that Italy (or Spain) is one of the ‘scary’ countries to watch. If NPLs continue to rise in those countries, it will push Europe into a great depression and the write downs are going to be painful for all the stakeholders (equity holders, bond holders and depositors).

Another bank that investors have been following for a while now is Deutsche Bank. There is a funny chart (see below) that has been making the headlines which shows the bank’s share price over the past 18 months overlaid with Lehman’s share price before the collapse. The share hit an all-time low at 11.20 last week and lost 90% of its market cap since June 2007 high. Another scary figure is DB’s derivatives exposure of more than 70 trillion dollars, roughly equivalent to the world’s GDP.

DBandLehman

(Source: ZeroHedge)

 We think that European Banking Crisis is a topic that will stay on the table over the next few months, increasing the volatility in global equities and decreasing the effectiveness of the loose monetary policy run by the major central banks (i.e. ECB or BoJ). The Yen tends to appreciate in periods of massive sell off, hurting the main BoJ’s target (cheaper Yen for higher equities).

There are a lot of interesting topics to be discussed at the moment, and our next article will focus on Japan and the introduction of the Helicopter money.

 

 

Gold: how far can the current trend go?

Since the beginning of the year, the commodity market has been regaining strength, and especially gold that has been up 23% since its mid-December low (slightly below 1,050 USD/ounce). As you can see it on the chart below, the recent spike in commodities can be explained by the dollar weakness we have seen over the past five months (DXY index in yellow line inverted vs. Gold in candlesticks). However, we are still convinced that Gold could continue to act as the ‘currency of the last resort’ (i.e. an insurance against the confidence on the monetary system) even if the US dollar is set to appreciate in the long term.

GoldUSD

(Source: Bloomberg)

As gold is traded primarily in dollars, many studies have showed that a weaker dollar makes gold cheaper and increases the demand for gold, which in the end pushes the price of the commodity higher. Therefore, Gold and US dollar should be negatively correlated. If we use HS spread analysis function in Bloomberg, we can see that the 1-month (20 Business days) correlation between Gold and DXY index (using the US Dollar index as a proxy of the dollar even if it’s mainly weighed in Euros, pounds and Yen) has been negative for most of the time over the past five years. However, this correlation can sometimes break down and turn positive for a small period of time.

GoldHSDXY

(Source: Bloomberg)

The question now that we are asking ourselves is to know the positive correlation between US dollar and Gold can last longer than just a week or two.

The reason why we think Gold is set to appreciate in the long term is coming from a long fat tail risk list that gets very concerning. In it, we could find the following events:

  • Japanese crisis in the bond market
  • Banking crisis in China coming from a rise in NPLs and a housing market collapse
  • Corporate default rates soaring in the US high-yield market
  • European Banking crisis

If one of those ‘black swan’ events rises in terms of probability, we would then see a sort risk-aversion environment with more demand for safe haven assets, such as US Treasuries or US Dollars. At the moment, the 10-year and 30-year Treasury yields both trade at 1.74% and 2.57% respectively, and a sudden risk-off sentiment could push LT US yields close to zero.

Academic studies have shown that there exists a cointegrating relation between gold and US real interest rates. If we stick with the assumption that inflation will remain low (i.e. close to zero) in the medium term (2-year period) based on the market’s expectation and that Treasury yields start to crater ‘once again’, an interest for gold could be a good alternative.

Tactical view on XAUUSD

Based on the chart below, it looks like the 50 SMA (purple line) has been acting as a strong support, however the momentum could continue in the future. The next psychological level stands at 1,300 on the upside, any break out could lead towards 1,325 then 1,350. On the downside, we see a strong support zone between 1,220 and 1,250 and could be a good entry point for a long term investment. The risk is if the US Dollar starts to appreciate to quickly based on this week’s FOMC ‘hawkish’ minutes with the market now starting to price at least a couple of rate hikes for 2016. For those looking for a more ST investment, a good psychological support on the downside to set up your stop stands below 1,200.

TechAnalysisGold

(Source: Bloomberg)

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 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.

Nikkei

(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?

GDP.png

Inflation

(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.

QEJapan.PNG

(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.

HouseholdSpending.PNG

(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?

Holdings.PNG

(Source: Bloomberg)

 

Post FOMC Analysis, Dollar Flash Crashes…

This week has been full of macro events (four central banks meetings – BoJ, Norges Bank, SNB and the Fed), however all eyes were on the FOMC statement that came up yesterday. Dovish stance from Yellen in addition to 2015 forecasts revised on the downside created Dollar ‘Flash Crashes’, with the FX market completely out of control. The US Dollar index was trading around 100 yesterday morning, then went down from 99.50 to 98.00 after the FOMC, and eventually ‘flash-crashed’ after the US close. EURUSD (and Cable) soared by 400 pips (and 500 pips) to 1.1040 (and 1.5160 respectively), USDCHF down 4 figures as well down to 0.9620. The yen was less reactive (which clearly shows the declining Yen Pavlovian response the risk-off environment, USDJPY went down ‘only’ 200 pips to 119.30.

To review the FOMC statement briefly, the Committee revised down all 2015 forecasts since the previous Summary of Economic Projections (SEP) released on December 17 last year. The median dot plot for year end 2015 decreased from 1.125% to 0.625% (down by 50 pips). In addition, looking at the Fed’s dot plot for the year 2016 and 2017, we can see that the median dot for 2016 fell to 1.875% in March (vs. 2.5%) and decline to 3.125% from 3.625% for 2017.

FOMC DOT plot

 (Source: Fed’s website)

Furthermore, if we look at the table below which shows the advance release of the SEP, we can see that the central tendency for GDP this year was decreased to 2.3%-2.7% (from 2.3% – 2.7%), PCE inflation (the inflation measure watched by the Fed as the PCE index covers a wide range of household spending) went down to 0.6% – 0.8%, compared to 1.0% – 1.6% three months ago.

FED Forecasts

(Source: Federal Reserve’s website)

While the Dollar has been recovering all day (especially during Asia, USD index now trades back at 99.40, with EURUSD back down to 1.0660, USDCHF up to 0.9910, Cable down to 1.4740 and USDJPY at 120.80), the market is still a bit ‘stress’ with all core bond yields trading to lower levels (See appendix, Bund at 19bps, US 10Y at 1.95% or UK Gilt at 1.52%) and peripheral EZ bonds trading higher than yesterday’s levels.

As a result, the equity market (S&P500) is back on track after a quick 70-point bear consolidation as I was looking for (see tweet @LFXYvan on Feb 26). If we look at the chart below, we can see that the 100 SMA has acted as a sort of support where the market found some potential buyers-on-dips. Over the past few months, it looks like if the 100 SMA didn’t hold, the 200 SMA was doing the rest of the job (except in mid-October).

SP500

(Source: FXCM)

Even though the equity has lost a bit of ‘power’ since the Fed stepped out of the bond market at the end of October last year (the bear consolidation are becoming more and more recurrent), I still believe there is some potential room on the upside based on yesterday’s comments and readjustments.

I am curious to know how the US policymakers will play the rate hike within the next few months (will there be one in June?), as even if the job market has continued to show some strong figures with a NFP report at 295K in February and an unemployment rate at 5.5% (close to full employment according to economists), there has been a lots a disappointing macro figures. See list below with all the misses in just the past month…

Misses US

 (Source: ZeroHedge)

Earlier today, the SNB left its deposit rate negative at -0.75% and jawboned a bit about the recent CHF appreciation. EURCHF is trading at 1.0550, down 2.5 figures in the past month and potentially ‘hurting’ the Swiss economy (Swiss is also part of the ‘Currency War’ party). Norway unexpectedly left its interest rates unchanged and signalled in its report that another cut was planned to protect the Norwegian economy from the plunge in oil prices. The NOK rocketed against the greenback earlier today, down from 8.37 to 8.07 on this hawkish surprise. As a reminder, Oil (and gas) generate more than 20% of Norway’s output, and the country may be in difficulty if this low-oil-price era persists. Norway may have to ‘tap’ into their sovereign wealth funds – Government Pension Fund Global – (approx. $850bn) in order to support their annual budgets this year. However, the maximum that the government could spend from oil revenue is 4% of the fund (by law).

Otherwise, no surprise from Japan and the BoJ stood firm on Tuesday, leaving its monetary policy unchanged (80tr Yen of asset purchases annually, mostly JGBs), even though policymakers acknowledged that prices might start falling in the coming months. Consumer prices in Japan rose 2.4% YoY in January, the same as the previous two months and down from 3.7% in April last year.

 Appendix: Bonds yields…

BBG

 (Source: Bloomberg)

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.

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.

Dollar pause, but when?

Since the beginning of July, the US Dollar has entered into a bull momentum and nothing seems to stop its trend. The USD index surged by almost 9% in the past three months and is now trading at a four year high at 85.65 (June 2010 levels to be precise). With the Fed about to finish tapering at the next meeting in October ($15bn cut) and policymakers acting much more confident (compare to H1) due to stronger macro indicators and an equity market still ‘rallying’, the market didn’t hesitate to position itself back into US Dollars.

If we have a look at the last Fed’s dot plot below, Fed Officials raised their median estimate for the FF rates at the end of 2015 to 1.375% (vs 1.125% in June). Moreover, by the end of 2017, the majority of the committee expects the FF rate to rise to 3.75%.

imagedotplots

(Source: Federal Reserve)

With the unemployment rate sitting at 6.1% (below the once-used-to-be 6.5% threshold), growth revised higher in Q2 at annualized 4.6% (vs. 4.2% in previous estimate) and most of the fundamentals being stronger (except August NFP and dismal durable goods that came in at -18.2% MoM), the market is looking at an earlier-than-expected rate hike in the US. I heard and read Q2 seems likely. In my opinion, US policymakers are making a mistake as they should have let the market ‘swallow’ a period without QE before starting to be more explicit concerning their ST monetary policy (see article Could we survive without QE?). I agree the Fed’s recent ‘move’ has probably made the joy of most of the central banks as all the currencies have been trending lower against the US Dollar. However, it looks to me that the recent talks we’ve heard have been premature [a bit] and in case of disappointing fundamentals, the Fed could easily switch to another mute period (aka BoE lately).

Based on my last discussions with the strategy team, we agreed there are several factors that could continue to hold back a significant growth acceleration in the near term. For instance, mortgage applications (MBA Purchase Index: orange line) in the US stands at a 14-year low even though the 30-year fixed mortgage rate (black line) is still trading at ‘decent’ low levels (4.39%, vs. an average of 6% between 2002 and 2008) as credit conditions are much tighter now.

HousingMarck(1)

(Source: Reuters)

Moreover, wage growth continues to increase only at a modest pace (except for skilled workers in areas such as health care) and will continue to weigh on personal consumption expenditures, which represents roughly 70% of the US economy.

US data this week:

 – Important figure to watch this week will be September Non-Farm Payrolls on Friday, which is supposed to print above the 200K (215K according to pools).

 – September Average Earnings and Workweek Hours (Friday) are expected to print at 0.2% MoM and 34.5h.

 – ISM Manufacturing PMI should remain strong at 58.5 on Wednesday.

Chart on STIRs: As I mentioned it in some of my previous research, the implied rates on the FF December 2015 and December 2016 futures contracts suggest that the Fed’s target rate will the end the year at 75bps in 2015 and 112bps in 2016 respectively.

ImpliedFFRates(1)

(Source: Bloomberg)