Limping Into the Weekend
Today’s Financial Markets Highlights
- * The dollar traded above JPY117 for the first time in five years and sterling fell to $1.3050, its lowest level since November 2020 before recovering.
- * Chinese lending figures disappointed and this helped encourage speculation of additional easing measures. This sparked a rally in Chinese bonds and weighed on the yuan.
- * Japan’s household spending fell in January. It accounts for about 50% of the world’s third-largest economy. There is more talk about the need for a new stimulus package.
- * The UK economy was stronger than expected in January. The marked deterioration in the trade deficit may reflect how the EU imports are documented.
- * The ECB secured more flexibility at yesterday’s meeting and most of its forecast changed were concentrated in this year’s projections. This suggests officials are inclined to see the current disruptions as short-lived.
- * Canada reports February jobs and a bounce back after a weak January is anticipated. Brazil reports IPCA inflation and is expected to hike the Selic rate next week by 100 bp.
The pall of war shrouds the capital and commodity markets ahead of the weekend. Indications that Ukraine recognizes that it cannot join NATO is not sufficient for Moscow that appears to be fighting for an unconditional surrender of the Kyiv government. Chinese and Indian shares managed to buck the regional losses today. Of note, the 1.6% decline in Hang Seng left Hong Kong equities off nearly 6.2% this week. The Stoxx 600 in Europe is up about 1.0% today and has gained around 2.3% this week. If sustained, it would be only the second weekly advance this year. US futures are posting modest gains. The bond market has seen its safe haven role tarnished. The 10-year US Treasury yield is little changed just below 1.98% and is up 20 bp this week. European yields are narrowly mixed today and up mostly 25-30 bp this week. Chinese bonds caught a strong bid today and 10-year yield fell seven basis points to slip below 2.80%. It was enough to reverse the week’s increase and is off four bp on the week. Among the major currencies, Norwegian krone is gaining the against the dollar. Sterling and the Canadian dollar have turned higher in Europe. The yen lurched lower and is off around 0.7% as the greenback poked above JPY117.00 for the first time in five years. Emerging market currencies are mostly heavier, led by the Turkish lira, which has depreciated by about 5% this week. Central European currencies are little changed on the day but are up 2.35%-2.60% this week. Gold peaked on Monday near $2070 and is consolidating today in the $1980-$2000 range. April WTI peaked Monday near $130.50 and is trading around $110 as it consolidates at the lower end of this week’s range. At $110 it is off about 5% this week after rallying more than 26% last week. US natural gas fell by about 10% in the first three days this week and pared the losses yesterday and today. It is off around 6.8% this week, its first weekly decline in four weeks. Europe’s benchmark has been selling off since Monday and is off about 33% this week after last week’s 123% surge. Iron ore fell for the fourth consecutive session, which practically offset Monday’s gain. It held on to a minor gain (0.2%) on the week after a 14.7% advance last week. Copper is a little firmer today, extending yesterday’s 1.75% recovery. Still, it is off almost 5% this week to nearly halve last week’s advance. May wheat is trying to snap a three-day 17% tumble. It is up around 2.2% today, which leaves it around 8.1% lower on the week after rallying more than 47% over the previous two weeks.
China’s February lending figures were a little softer than expected. New yuan loans rose by CNY1.23 trillion. However, the more comprehensive measure, aggregate financing grew a more modest CNY1.19 trillion. This difference between the two is the shadow banking, which includes the wealth management arms of banks as well as non-bank lenders. It shrank. Premier Li Keqiang seemed to acknowledge what many observers noted after the NPC adopted a 5.5% GDP target this year. Namely that it requires more government support. Li also indicated that this will be his last year as premier. Later this year, President Xi is expected to secure a third term.
Separately, note that yesterday Italy formally rejected 2018 sales of 75% stake in Alpi Aviation, a military drone company to a Chinese entity. The government claims that under the “golden power” 2012 legislation, it should have been consulted. It is only the sixth deal that Italy has blocked under the legislation. Five of those deals involved a Chinese company purchase and four of which have been rejected by the Draghi government that is about 13 months old.
Japan’s household spending fell 1.2% in January. It was the sixth drop in the past nine months. Spending on entertainment, extra schooling, and clothing paced the pullback. The social restrictions took a toll. It reinforces the sense that the world’s third-largest economy could contract this quarter. Household consumption accounts for about half of Japan’s GDP. The number of Covid cases rose from about 500 a day to more than 100k. The quasi-emergency measures in Tokyo and several other prefectures are in place until later this month. There appears to be growing recognition that the government may offer a new stimulus package ahead of the summer upper house election.
The dollar has risen every day this week against the Japanese yen, for the first time since September 2020. The greenback pushed above JPY117.00 briefly in late Asia/early European turnover. The intraday momentum indicators are stretched. Initial support is seen by JPY116.60. That said, there seems to be little meaningful chart resistance ahead of the JPY118.00-JPY118.60 area. The Australian dollar peaked on Monday near $0.7440 and fell about two-cent by the end of the Tuesday. Its recovery Wednesday and Thursday stalled at the (61.8%) retracement around $0.7365. It is trading back toward $0.7300 today, where a A$360 mln option expires today. The greenback jumped 0.17% against the Chinese yuan today. It does not sound like much, but it is the biggest advance in two-and-a-half weeks. The dollar reached CNY6.3333, its highest level since February 22. Ironically, the PBOC set the dollar’s reference rate below where the market anticipated (CNY6.3306 vs. CNY6.3315). As we noted yesterday, the PBOC double the yuan-rouble band to 10% and the market may still be struggling to adjust for the rouble.
Many were surprised that the ECB slowed its asset purchases. The German 10-year yield jumped from around 0.20% to 0.30%. The yield of Italy’s 10-year bond jumped from around 1.70% to almost 1.93%. A possible explanation for the market shock was that many drew the wrong conclusion about the indisputable fact of heightened uncertainty. The conventional thinking held that such a condition would paralyze policymakers. They would do nothing. However, in the current context, and given the status quo ante (the situation before the war), we argued that the ECB needed to secure greater flexibility and the chief restraint was the forward guidance on the asset purchases.
The ECB maintained the sequencing that also seemed necessary, though some observers doubted it. Bond purchases end before raising rates. The time between the two events was tweaked, rather hiking rates “shortly” after the bond buying stopped, it would do so “some time after”. ECB President Lagarde said it was meant to encompass a wider range of possibilities (i.e., securing flexibility). The ECB did say one thing that would limit its flexibility. It dropped a reference to the possibility that official rate could be lower. The message from the forecast may also be worth thinking about. This year growth and inflation were revised lower and higher, respectively. However, the 2023 and 2024 forecast were hardly changed. This is the ECB’s staff’s base case, that the disruption is relatively short-lived. Under more pessimistic assumption, inflation reaches a little above 7% this year.
While Europe has taken many strong steps in the past couple of weeks, the new unity may not be limitless. And those limits may be coming to the surface. First, for understandable reasons, the Baltics and Poland are pushing for an even more resolute response to Russia’s aggression. Second, the old creditor/debtor issue is raising its head when it comes issues a second round of joint bonds to ostensibly fund the energy and defense projects that are now recognized in a way that it wasn’t after Georgia (2008) and Crimea (2014). It may be behind part of the divergence of opinion about some fast-track path for Ukraine to join the EU.
The UK economy grew 0.8% in January, much faster than the 0.1% expansion the median projection in Bloomberg’s survey after contracting by 0.2% in December. Industrial production rose by 0.7% (0.1% expected) and services output increased by 0.8% (0.2% expected). Trade, on the other hand, was a larger drag. The trade deficit widened to GBP16.16 bln. Exports fell 15.8% on the month and imports surged 21.8%. Note that as of the January trade figures, imports from the EU to the UK are being collected using customs declarations data and are said not to be directly comparable with previous reports.
The euro rallied to $1.1120 yesterday on the initial reaction to the ECB, but the gains were quickly unwound, and the euro finished near the session lows (~$1.0975). Follow-through selling saw it test the $1.0960 area, which is roughly the (50%) retracement of this week’s recovery off Monday’s low near $1.08. The next retracement (61.8%) is about $1.0925. There are two chunky option expirations on Monday to note. There are 1.4 bln euros options at $1.09 and $1.10. Sterling posted an outside down day yesterday by trading on both sides of Wednesday’s range and settling below Wednesday’s low. Follow-through selling today pushed sterling to almost $1.3050, its lowest level since November 2020. However, it is recovering as the European morning progressed and looks to test nearby resistance in the $1.3100-$1.3120 area.
The US CPI was in line with the median forecasts on Bloomberg. The headline pace accelerated to 7.9% (from 7.5%) and the core to 6.4% (from 6.0%). We are all sensitive to food and energy prices now. They rose 1% and 3.5% month-over-month, respectively. That means food prices are almost 8% above a year ago, and energy is 25.6% higher. Gasoline prices, which POTUS’s voter support seems particularly sensitive to, rose 6.6% in February after an 0.8% decline in January. It is up 38% over the past 12 months. Owners’ equivalent rent (accounts for almost a quarter of the CPI basket) and rent itself (7% of CPI basket) have been posting solid monthly gains and are up 4.3% and 4.2% respectively from a year ago. New and used vehicles (each account for 4% of the CPI basket) continued to accelerate. New vehicle prices rose 0.3% in February, which saw the year-over-year pace rise to 12.4% (from 12.2%). Prices for previously owned vehicles slipped 0.2%, but the year-over-year rate accelerated to 41% from 40.5%. Core services (58% of CPI basket) accelerated for the third consecutive month to stand 4.4% above year ago levels. Judging from the near-term Fed funds futures and swap rates, it does not appear that the data changed anyone’s mind about next week’s FOMC meeting. The implied yields of the March and April Fed funds futures actually eased yesterday ever so slightly.
The preliminary University of Michigan’s survey for March may attract some attention, but the highlight of the North American session is Canada’s employment report. A strong report is expected. Recall Canada loss 200k jobs in January, almost 83k of which were full-time positions. However, a strong recovery is expected. The median forecast in Bloomberg’s survey sees the 127.5k jobs and the unemployment rate falling to 6.2% from 6.5% while the participation rate increases to 65.2% from 65.0%. The January jobs losses were concentrated in Ontario and Quebec and seemed to reflect the flare-up in Covid cases. The Bank of Canada, which began its tightening cycle earlier this month, is widely expected to hike again next month and to begin passively allowing its balance sheet to shrink in Q2. Mexico reports January industrial production figures today. A small decline is expected after a 1.2% rise in December. Brazil reports its IPCA inflation measure. It likely ticked up from January’s 10.38% year-over-year increase. The central bank is expected to hike the Selic rate next week 100 bp to 11.75%. Yesterday, Peru’s central bank hiked its reference rate by 50 bp to 4.0%. It was the eighth consecutive hike since last August. The reference was at 0.25% in July 2021.
The US dollar peaked near CAD1.29 on Tuesday, its high for the year. It backed off to nearly CAD1.2750 yesterday and is consolidating today up to CAD1.28. The Canadian dollar is being torn by contradictory forces. Higher commodities, and anticipated investment in commodity sectors, should be supportive for the Canadian dollar. On the other hand, the risk-off mood, reflected in the weaker equities tends to be a negative. Also, note that the US 2-year premium over Canada has widened to about 16 bp, the most since September 2019. There is an $1 bln option at CAD1.2750 that expires today, and the 20-day moving average is a slightly below there (~CAD1.2745). The greenback peaked near MXN21.50 on Tuesday and fell to MXN20.8575 the following day. It has been consolidating since then. It was capped by MXN21.0650 yesterday. The MXN21.09 and MXN21.16 hold the nearby retracement objectives. The Brazilian real continues to be resilient. The dollar briefly slipped through BRL5.0 Wednesday for the first time since last July. After jumping to BRL5.0750 yesterday, the greenback settled below BRL5.02. We still like the dollar lower as foreign flows into the bond and stock market do not appear exhausted.
Bannockburn Global Forex