Having A Look At The Markets Considering Tensions, COVID-19 And National Banks Decisions
Marc Chandler 28.02.2022 15:36
February 28, 2022 Macro
March will be a pivotal month. Three key elements shape the investment climate: geopolitics, easing of Covid pressures in Europe and North America, and the continued monetary policy response.
Russia's threat to Ukraine had been simmering for several weeks before the February 11 warning by the US that an attack was imminent. It became a significant risk-off factor and added to the pressure on equities, while helping support the bond markets.
While several concessions were offered, there has been no common ground on the key issue of NATO enlargement. Whatever military victory Putin may enjoy, Russia will see more NATO rather than less. Not only will NATO boost its presence, but it is possible that Sweden (and maybe Finland) joins the military pact. The risk is that the economic fallout from Russia's military action spurs more inflation and weaker growth. Most immediately, it has seen the market downgrade the chances of a large rate hike (50 bp) by the Federal Reserve or the Bank of England at their mid-March meetings.
The virus appears to be receding and social restrictions are being lifted in Europe and North America. Economies are re-opening. Delivery times are improving, suggesting supply chain disruptions are easing. After a slow start, the G7 economies appear to be strengthening, with the exception of Japan. Japan imposed new social restrictions in late January that ran through mid-February. The February composite PMI was below the 50 boom/bust level for the second consecutive month. In the UK and France, the service PMI has risen above the manufacturing PMI, another sign of a post-Covid recovery.
The normalization of monetary policy takes a big step forward in the coming weeks with the first rate hikes by the US and Canada, and the first balance sheet reduction by the Bank of England. The European Central Bank will update is forward guidance for its asset purchases and is expected to allow for a hike toward the end of the year. The Bank of Japan's Yield-Curve Control cap on the 10-year bond at 0.25% may be challenged if global yields drag higher in their wake. The Reserve Bank of Australia continues to push back against expectations of an early hike, which the swaps market says likely happens in July.
Commodity prices continue to rise. The CRB Index rose by about 3.5% in February after a 9.8% gain in January. It has not had a losing week since mid-December. Adverse weather conditions in South America are helping boost corn and soy prices, which also translates into higher livestock prices. Oil prices remain near multiyear highs and the April WTI contract has risen by around a quarter this year. The high does not seem to be in place yet, but a nuclear accord with Iran would boost supply.
US natural gas prices are up about 20% this year, but partly it is a function of the weak finish last year. Still, it is above the 200-day moving average by around 4%. Europe's benchmark (Netherlands) has risen by almost 40%. Higher oil and natural gas prices have knock-on effects on food production via fertilizer and pesticides, let alone transportation. We note that the last three recessions in the US were preceded by a doubling of oil prices. The price of WTI has doubled since the start of last year.
Emerging markets have been resilient to start the year. Brazil and Russia raised rate particularly aggressively 2021 and early this year. Others, including Hungary, Czech, and Chile have done much of their heavy lifting. The MSCI Emerging Market Equity Index has held in better than the MSCI World Index of developed countries in the first two months of the year (-4.9% vs. -7.8%). Year-to-date the JP Morgan Emerging Market Currency Index has risen by almost 1%. Carry and valuation were often cited as the main considerations.
Bannockburn's GDP-weighted currency index rose about 0.3% in February as the currencies tended to have appreciated against the dollar. The Chinese yuan (21.8%) and euro (19.1%) have the most weighting after the US dollar (31%) in the index. They rose by 0.7% and 0.3% respectively. The strongest performer in the index was the Brazilian real (2.1% weighting) with a 3.0% gain, followed by the Australian dollar's (2.0% weighting) 2.25% increase. The weakest by far was the Russian rouble (2.2% weighting), which tumbled 6.75%.
Dollar: There is no doubt that the Federal Reserve will launch a new monetary cycle at the mid-March meeting. At one point, the market had priced in a little more than an 80% chance of a 50 bp move out of the gate. The pushback was mild, but the market understood, and the odds now are near 28%, which may still be high. The focus is on the updated economic projections and any fresh guidance on the balance sheet. At issue is terminal target rate in the cycle. In December, five officials projected the Fed funds target rate in 2024 would be above the long-term rate of 2.5% (all but two Fed officials saw it above 2.0%-2.5%). The Federal Reserve is getting closer to deciding the parameters of its balance sheet strategy. It may be a bit early for details, but Chair Powell could confirm a start around midyear. Meanwhile, the US economy is slowing sharply after the historic inventory contribution that lifted Q4 22 growth to about 7fx%. The Atlanta Fed's GDP tracker sees Q1 growth at 1.3% while the median forecast in Bloomberg's survey is for 1.6% GDP at an annualized pace. Still, a strong rebound is likely to play out before the more sustained slowdown, we expected, starting in H2.
Euro: First it was the divergence of monetary policy that drove the euro to $1.1120 in January. The euro recovered to almost $1.15 on February 10, the day before the US warned that Russia could invade Ukraine. Then it was actual invasion took the euro to almost $1.1100. The European Central Bank's leadership opened the door to a rate hike later this year, before the US warning about Russia's deadly intentions, the market began pricing in a hike in June. This seemed exaggerated at the time. The ECB has been very clear on the sequence. Bond buying, under the Asset Purchase Program will end shortly before the first rate hike. To prepare for a possible hike, the ECB needs to adjust its forward guidance on its asset purchases at the March 10 meeting. It will likely reaffirm purchases in Q2, but it may look for an exit shortly thereafter. The market has pushed the first rate hike back to the end of Q3. Meanwhile, the US-German two-year interest rate differential continues to trend in the US favor. Consider that at the end of last September, the US premium was a little less than 100 bp. Now it is near 200 bp. On the eve of the pandemic, it was almost 220 bp, although there is not a one-to-one correspondence between the exchange rate and the interest rate differential, the euro was in a range between $1.10 and nearly $1.1250 in December 2020.
(February 25 indicative closing prices, previous in parentheses)
Spot: $1.1270 ($1.1150)
Median Bloomberg One-month Forecast $1.1300 ($1.1175)
One-month forward $1.1280 ($1.1160) One-month implied vol 7.0% (6.0%)
Japanese Yen: Unlike most other large economies, Japan continues to experience deflationary pressures as seen by the GDP deflator (-1.3% year-over-year Q4 2021) or the January CPI (excluding fresh food and energy, -0.5% year-over-year). This, coupled with signs of a weak Q1 has persuaded the market that BOJ is on hold until after Governor Kuroda's term ends in April 2023. Given the monetary policy divergence and the deterioration of the balance of payments (with rising oil and commodity prices), the yen appears vulnerable. However, the exchange rate's correlation with the change in the US 10-year yield has slackened, while improving with equities. In other words, its "safe haven" status is outweighing carry considerations. Still, on balance, we look for the dollar to challenge the January and February high near JPY116.35. Above those highs, there appears to be little chart-based resistance ahead of the late 2016/early 2017 high around JPY118.60.
Spot: JPY115.55 (JPY115.25)
Median Bloomberg One-month Forecast JPY115.00 (JPY115.15)
One-month forward JPY115.50 (JPY115.20) One-month implied vol 6.3% (6.1%)
British Pound: Sterling was stuck in a $1.35-$1.36 range for most of February. Intraday violations common but there was only one close outside the range until Russia invaded Ukraine. It briefly crashed through $1.32 before rebounding. The UK gets only 5%-6% of its oil and gas from Russia, but foreign direct investment exposure can be substantial for some companies in some sectors. Consider that BP has a 20% stake in Rosneft. The Bank of England meets on March 17. The market has dramatically downgraded the risk of a 50 bp move, which had been rejected in favor a 25 bp move by a 5-4 vote in February. Before the US warning about a full-scale Russian attack, the swaps market had more than a 60% chance the BOE would deliver a 50 bp hike in March. Two weeks later the odds have fallen to less than 20%, the lowest since mid-December. With the base rate at 50 bp, the BOE will stop reinvesting maturing proceeds of its holdings, and GBP28 bln of bond maturing in March that will not be recycled. The outright selling of assets from its balance sheet can begin when the base rate reaches 1.0% but it is not a trigger as much as a pre-condition.
Spot: $1.3410 ($1.3400)
Median Bloomberg One-month Forecast $1.3500 ($1.3450)
One-month forward $1.3405 ($1.3395) One-month implied vol 7.0% (6.5%)
Canadian Dollar: Like sterling, the Canadian dollar spent most of February in a clear range. It broke down on the dramatic wave of risk-aversion on the Russian invasion, but, unlike sterling, it was back into the old range within 24 hours. The US dollar's range was CAD1.2650-CAD1.2660 on the downside and CAD1.28 on the upside. It shot up to CAD1.2860 but returned to CAD1.27 the following day. The Bank of Canada meets on March 2. The swaps market sees a 75% chance that the Bank of Canada delivers a 50 bp to initiate its tightening cycle. The market is discounting almost 180 bp of hikes over the next 12 months and peaking between 2.25%-2.50% next year from 25 bp now. It is the most among the G7 countries. It is also where the central bank sees the neutral rate. The Bank of Canada is also expected to signal that it plans on letting the balance sheet shrink passively, not replacing maturing securities shortly.
Spot: CAD1.2715 (CAD 1.2770)
Median Bloomberg One-month Forecast CAD1.2600 (CAD1.2690)
One-month forward CAD1.2710 (CAD1.2765) One-month implied vol 6.7% (7.1%)
Australian Dollar: After falling 2.7% in January, the Australian dollar rebounded by 2.25% in February. Of the major currencies, only the New Zealand dollar outperformed it and its central bank hiked rates for the third consecutive meeting and announced its balance sheet reduction strategy. Australia's economy appeared to recover quickly from the Covid-related disruption that pushed the January composite PMI below the 50 boom/bust level (46.7). It bounced back in February to 55.9, the highest since last June. Higher commodity prices are delivering a positive terms of trade shock. The average monthly trade surplus was A$10.2 bln last year compared with an average of nearly A$5.7 bln in 2019. While the Reserve Bank of Australia acknowledges the possibility of rate hike later this year, the market is considerably more aggressive. The swaps market has discounted around 145 bp in tightening over the next 12 months. However, in recent weeks, the market has pushed the first hike in Q3 from Q2. For the last four months, the Australian dollar has mostly traded between $0.7000 and $0.7300. This range may continue to dominate.
Spot: $0.7220 ($0.6990)
Median Bloomberg One-Month Forecast $0.7200 ($0.7090)
One-month forward $0.7230 ($0.6995) One-month implied vol 10.0% (10.4%)
Mexican Peso: The peso appreciated by 1.4% in February. Latam currencies shined. and accounted for four of the top six EM performers, led by the 3% gain in the Brazilian real. At her first meeting as Governor of the Bank of Mexico, Rodriguez delivered a 50 bp hike. With price pressures still accelerating, she is poised to repeat it at her second meeting on March 24. It would bring the target rate to 6.5%. Recall that in the last cycle, Banxico had raised its target to 8.25% before cutting by in August 2019. It was at 7.25% in January 2020. The swaps market expects it to peak in early near year in the 8.00%-8.25% area. The key is inflation, which has been above 7% for three months through January. The bi-weekly inflation report had it accelerating in mid-February. Mexican asset markets are underperforming. Consider, the yield on its 10-year dollar bond is up 100 bp this year. Brazil's is up half as much. Mexico's equity benchmark is off almost 1.4% this year while the MSCI Latam equity index is up 11.5%. The dollar set five-month lows in late February slightly below MXN20.16. It peaked in late January near MXN20.9150. The bulk of the move is probably behind it and the MXN20.00-MXN20.10 area may offer a nearby floor.
Spot: MXN20.35 (MXN20.80)
Median Bloomberg One-Month Forecast MXN20.50 (MXN20.78)
One-month forward MXN20.46 (MXN20.90) One-month implied vol 11.0% (10.6%)
Chinese Yuan: Few observers seem to place any importance on Chinese officials claim that it is making the currency move flexible. The yuan still can only move in a 2% band around the reference rate that the central bank sets daily ostensibly submissions by its banks. Although it does not appear to intervene directly, it can still have various levers of influence. The yuan has risen against the dollar for six of the past seven months. The currency moves are small but have a cumulative effect. In February, the yuan rose by about 0.7% against the dollar. It was sufficient to lift it to a new four-year high and what appears to be a new record-high against its trade-weighted basket (CFETS). After cautioning the market against driving the yuan higher and raising the reserve requirement for foreign currency deposits (earned in part from selling the yuan to offshore buyers), the PBOC shifted in February. It began setting the dollar's reference rate below expectations. While a couple of large asset managers have reduced their weightings of Chinese bonds as the premium over Treasuries narrows considerably, foreign investors have been buying Chinese stocks outside of the technology and property sectors. It is difficult to know the extent of the official tolerance of a stronger yuan when monetary and fiscal policy is more stimulative. The dollar's low from 2017 was around CNY6.24-CNY6.25.
Spot: CNY6.3175 (CNY6.3615)
Median Bloomberg One-month Forecast CNY6.3800 (CNY6.3895)
One-month forward CNY6.3300 (CNY6.3820) One-month implied vol 3.1% (3.1%)