Inflation jitters send US yields, dollar higher
Inflation. The chop-fest range trading beguiling currency, bond, and equities markets in the US this month continued overnight. Overnight, New York decided that it was in fact worried about inflation, having dismissed it the day before. Tomorrow, perhaps, they won’t be once again. That saw equities retreat, US yields firm, with US 10-years back above 3.0% once again, while the US dollar also booked some modest gains.
Ignoring the noise elsewhere, oil continued its march higher, Brent crude jumping 2.40% to 123.95 a barrel overnight. An unexpected rise by official US Crude Inventories of 2.0 million barrels, and distillates by 2.5 million barrels provided no solace to oil markets, as gasoline stocks remained flat. Most of the price rise can probably be attributed to fighting talk by the UAE Oil Minister at a conference yesterday.
According to Reuters, Minister Suhail al-Mazrouei said the OPEC+ shortfall to target was 2.6 million barrels, with OPEC+ compliance at 200%. He also warned that a reopening of China would place further stress on supplies. He also said that we were nowhere near peak oil prices. Gulp. In other news, difficulties monitoring Iran’s nuclear compliance puts a new nuclear deal, and more Iranian crude on international markets, as far away as ever.
That leads nicely into China, where markets were awaiting this morning’s May Balance of Trade release. The trade balance has exploded higher to USD 78.76 billion, led by exports increasing by 16.90%, while imports climbed by 4.10%. I suspect port reopenings have flattered the data. However, from my point of view, the trade data is irrelevant to a much more important development that has occurred today. This morning, Shanghai residents awoke to the news that the Shanghai district of Minhang, home to two million people, has been placed under strict lockdown with mass testing scheduled for Saturday. Markets have been naively pricing in that the easing of restrictions in Beijing and Shanghai was the final victory over omicron, and thus, peak covid-zero.
As I have said repeatedly with regards to covid-zero country’s experiences, the country has to get lucky 100% of the time, the virus has to only get lucky once. China is no different from anywhere else in this respect and buying the dip for a China bounce is a perilous activity. Covid-zero is going nowhere in China, and nor is the virus. Thus, the chances of extended restrictions returning, with the ensuing drop in China’s economic activity, remain as high as ever. They could repeat over and over again. About the only good news from this development is that it might take the edge off the oil rally.
Still, the news isn’t all bad on the inflation front. The US Treasury Secretary indicated overnight that the US was looking to “reconfigure” tariffs on Chinese imports. Translation: we’ll drop a lot of them to try and slow inflation down ahead of November’s mid-term elections. Indonesia today, has also announced an export acceleration scheme to ship at least one million tonnes of palm oil and derivatives to international markets according to Channel News Asia. And yesterday from Reuters, India indicated it would soon allow 1.2 million tonnes of wheat exports after banning exports previously.
Neither development will materially move the dial on food inflation thanks to the Russia/Ukraine conflict, but it does show both an understanding and willingness by exporting countries, of the downstream impacts globally and the need to assist in mollifying them. Like China’s covid-zero policy though, nobody should be naïve enough to expect them not to return and bite the global economy again. Food nationalism will continue to be a real issue throughout 2022 and into 2023.
China’s trade date was the only tier-1 Asia data release today. Philippine’s trade balance held steady at USD-4.8 billion for April, barely changing from March. Imports rose 22.80% YoY, likely reflecting skyrocketing food and energy prices. Indonesia’s May Consumer Confidence leapt higher to 128.90, and the rising cost of living or not, it’s hard to see any recessionary signs here in Jakarta. Pak President’s removal of the mask mandate seems to have magically restored activity of pre-pandemic levels, and the traffic is well and truly back to normal here. So much so, that Jakarta’s local government has expanded the odd/even car restrictions to a larger part of the Big Durian.
This afternoon’s undoubted highlight will be the European Central Bank policy meeting, perhaps the most anticipated one of the year. Given her recent guidance, ECB President Lagarde has primed markets for an ending to their quantitative easing but don’t call it quantitative easing programme, this month or next, as well as two 0.25% rate hikes in July and September. The rates curve has fully priced this in, with 130bps of hikes expected by year-end. I think that’s punchy myself, given that Europe is moving into a war economy, with a lot of inflation imported and beyond its control thanks to the conflict in the East.
By default, one would expect that much of the euro’s recent recovery is down to those rate hiking expectations as well. So, this afternoon will be all about the press conference as it would be a huge surprise if they hiked by 0.25% today as well (note: I have already used huge surprise and central bank this week and I was wrong). A rate hike today could shake EUR/USD out of its 1.0700/1.0800 malaise and open gains to 1.1000. On the other hand, If Ms Lagarde has blinked and become dovish again, the adjustment lower by the ECB rates curve and EUR/USD could get quite emotional.
The US calendar is dead ahead of tomorrow’s Inflation main event. US Jobless Claims may see traders grasping at straws on a slow news day. Otherwise, I suspect we will see another mood-swing session from the FOMO gnomes of Wall Street, with any excuse to buy, the genetically pre-programmed default option.
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