Asymmetric data and event risk

With the August lull behind us, developed central bank monetary policy has taken centre stage, with the focus in particular on the Fed and Bank of England. Both have signalled that they could deliver a 25bp hike before end-year.

Rates markets have adjusted accordingly and the focus as we enter the last leg of 2017 will be on whether macro data and events support this hawkish turn. Accordingly, I have compiled a comprehensive data and event release calendar for major economies (Figure 1).

Markets now have 17bp of Fed hikes priced in for the remainder of the year versus 7-8bp in early September – in line with my view that pricing was probably too skinny for the liking of a Fed keen to keep its options open while minimising any market fall-out.

Markets are pricing an 80% probability of the BoE hiking its policy rate 25bp to 0.5% at its 2nd November meeting and a further 30bp of hikes for 2018 – a very slow and gradual rate hiking cycle which would mimic the Fed’s tightening in 2015-2016.

The Fed and BoE have cried wolf in the past only to then keep rates on hold. Precedent suggests that a combination of very weak domestic and global macro data and significant Brexit-related setbacks (for the UK) could derail these central banks’ aspirations.

But my twin forecasts of the Fed hiking only twice this year and the BoE only starting to hike in 2018 are clearly at risk. Both central banks have, in my view, set the bar pretty low for a Q4 hike or put differently set the bar quite high to keep rates on hold.

The corollary is that financial markets’ reaction function to forthcoming macro data and events could be asymmetric, with bond yields rising and the Dollar and Sterling strengthening further on the back of good data and/or positive event risk but not reacting as much to weak data and/or negative event shocks.

The Fed confirmed at its policy meeting that it would start as of October reducing its $4.5trn balance sheet. The timeline and timescale, which had been flagged at its June policy meeting, is clearly designed to be slow and gradual in a bid not to spook markets and avoid a repeat of the 2013 tapper-tantrum.

I argued in Paradox of acute uncertainty and strong consensus views (3 January 2017) that “German general elections scheduled for September may well lead to a more divided parliament, making it harder to form a majority coalition government. But it is difficult at this stage to see who will realistically challenge Chancellor Merkel who is striving for a fourth consecutive election victory”. Nine months on and with German federal elections scheduled for Sunday my view has not changed materially.

Read the full article on my website.

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Appetite for destruction… and procrastination

Financial markets continue to take into their stride a number of man-made and natural crises and the procrastination of policy-makers in the US, UK and Eurozone.

Global risk appetite remains seemingly well bid despite the still very opaque end-game for rising geopolitical tensions stemming from North Korea and the impact from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

In the world of FX, the emerging market carry trade is seemingly enjoying a mini-revival thanks to low yields in developed economies, signs that global GDP growth continues to inch higher and a surge in commodity prices, particularly industrial metals.

Event risk is clearly more acute in September than it was in August but it is not obvious to me that major central banks will deliver the kind of surprises which cause major dislocations in financial markets, including EM currencies.

However, these high-yielding EM currencies’ volatility versus the Dollar remains quite elevated, with perhaps the exception of the Turkish Lira and Indian Rupee.

Chinese policy-makers are seemingly intent, at least for now, on using Renminbi appreciation as a show of strength and I expect further currency gains near-term.

In the UK, the mammoth challenge facing Prime Minister Theresa May is coming into greater focus. Moreover, the Bank of England is unlikely to seriously consider a rate hike before next year, in my view. With this in mind, I see the risk biased toward bouts of Sterling weakness.

The Euro, which eked out small gains versus the Dollar and Sterling following ECB President Draghi’s Q&A session, is ultimately behaving like a safe-haven currency.

I expect the common currency to benefit, not suffer, from lower interest rates for longer and the associated improvement in economic activity even if future Euro appreciation could be modest rather than spectacular.

We know what you did this summer

The month of August has come and gone and I struggle to pinpoint any new, clear-cut common themes. There has been plenty of news and developments for financial markets to digest and react to, including North Korea’s recent missile launch over Japanese airspace, the devastating impact of hurricane Harvey in Texas, the looming US debt ceiling breach, President Trump’s threats of terminating/re-negotiating NAFTA, ongoing Brexit negotiations between the UK and European Union and French President Macron’s announcement of ambitious labour market reforms.

Read ‘We know what you did this summer’ on my website in full.

Broken Records

The past year has been remarkable with political precedents set in the US, UK and France, still record-low central bank policy rates in most developed economies and financial markets and macro data at all-time or multi-year highs (and lows).

The US presidency is fraught with problems but markets turning are a blind eye…for now. The UK is still on course to be first ever member state to leave the European Union come 29th March 2019, at least on paper. French elections have repainted the political landscape and present many opportunities but old (fiscal) hurdles still need to be cleared.

Central bank policy rates remain at record lows in the majority of developed economies, including the Eurozone, UK, Japan, Australia and New Zealand and I expect this to remain the case for the remainder of the year. Loose global monetary policy is likely to continue providing a floor to risky assets, including equities and emerging market currencies.

A number of central banks have hiked 25bp in recent months, including the Fed, BoC and CNB, in line with my year-old view that rate hikes would gradually replace rate cuts. But in aggregate the turnaround in developed central bank monetary policy is proceeding at a glacial pace and I see few reasons why this should change.

The Bank of England has not hiked its policy rate for 526 weeks – a domestic record – and I continue to believe that this stretch will extend into 2018.

In contrast to the Dollar and Sterling, the Euro – by far the most stable major currency in the past seven years – has appreciated over 7% since early April.

While the ECB may want to slow the current rapid pace of Euro appreciation, it is unlikely to stop, let alone reverse, the Euro’s upward path at this stage. For starters, Eurozone growth and labour markets continue to strengthen. The German IFO business climate index hit three consecutive record highs in June-August.

Perhaps the most obvious record which financial markets have broken is the continued climb in US equities to new highs and volatility’s fall to near-record lows.

Emerging market rates continue to edge lower in the face of receding inflationary risks and I see room for further rate cuts, particularly in Brazil given the pace of Real appreciation.

Non-Japan Asian (NJA) currencies continue to broadly tread water, in line with my core view that NJA central banks have little incentive to materially alter their currencies’ paths.

Year-to-date emerging market equities have rallied 24%, twice as fast as the Dow Jones (12%) which has rallied twice as fast as EM currencies versus the Dollar (6%).

Read ‘Broken Records‘ in full on my website.

No UK rate hikes this year and room for further Euro upside

The odds of a 25bp Bank of England rate hike at next week’s policy meeting are all but dead in my view following tepid GDP growth of 0.3% qoq in Q2 2017.

Moreover, UK GDP growth and inflation dynamics, allied to forthcoming changes in the composition of the Monetary Policy Council, point to the record-low policy rate of 0.25% remaining on hold for the remainder of the year.

Forecasting European Central Bank (ECB) monetary policy, including the timing and modalities of changes to its Quantitative Easing program, is arguably a far trickier proposition.

While the ECB may be incentivised to slow the current rapid pace of Euro appreciation, at this stage I do not expect the ECB to try and to stop, let alone reverse, the Euro’s upward path.

Read the full article on my website.

UK: Land of Hope & Glory…but mostly Confusion

The lyrics of Genesis’ 1986 hit “Land of Confusion” were penned over 30 years ago, with the English rock band satirising Ronald Reagan’s US presidency (see Figure 1). Specifically, they allude to the confusion fuelled by opportunist politicians in a fast-changing world beset by acute challenges. But, in my view, they portray with uncanny accuracy the UK in 2017 as Prime Minister Theresa May and her government, Parliament and the Bank of England feel their way towards Brexit.

Read the full article on my website.

H2 2017: Something old, something new, something revisited

As we head towards the second half of 2017 and the one-year anniversary of the UK referendum on EU membership, many themes which have pre-occupied financial markets in the past 12 months are likely to continue dominating headlines.

These include Donald Trump’s US presidency and its longevity, merits and scope for tax reforms and infrastructural spending, Brexit negotiations which officially started on 19th June and the resilience of the ongoing recovery in global GDP growth.

Global GDP growth rose modestly in Q1 2017 to around 3.12% year-on-year from 3.06% in Q4 2016 and a multi-year low of 2.8% yoy in Q2 2016, according to my estimates.

But the global manufacturing PMI averaged 52.7 in April-May, down slightly from 52.9 in Q1 2017, suggesting global GDP growth may not have accelerated further in Q2. This could in turn, at the margin, delay or temper policy rate hikes and/or unwinding of QE programs.

Non-Japan Asian currencies have in the past month been even more stable than in the preceding month, in line with my expectations, but a more pronounced policy change – particularly in China – remains a possibility.

Other themes, such as the timing and magnitude of higher policy rates in developed economies and falling international oil prices, have recently come into clearer focus and will likely be of central importance in H2.

For the UK, I am sticking to my view that a 25bp policy rate hike this year is still a low probability event and I see little chance of an August hike.

The uncertainty over the MPC’s interest rate path and the government’s stance on Brexit complicate any forecast of Sterling near and medium-term but I continue to see the risks biased towards further depreciation.

In France, the hype surrounding Emmanuel Macron’s presidential and legislative election victories is already giving way to whether, when and how smoothly the LREM-MoDem rainbow government can push through its reformist agenda.

Finally, while most European elections are now thankfully behind us, European financial markets are likely to attach great importance to the outcome of Germany’s general election on 24th September.

Conversely, the burning topic of rising European nationalism and future of the eurozone/EU has lost traction following recent presidential and/or legislative elections in France, the UK, Netherlands and Austria.

Read my revisit of H2 of 2017 on my website.