Investors Remain Uneasy Even as Equities Stabilize

new Drowning money

  • The focus today on US CPI may prove for naught
  • The yen remains very much the main focus in the foreign exchange market
  • Thus far the reaction from Japanese officials has been quite modest
  • Things are moving quickly in South Africa; CEE economies remain robust; BOT kept rates steady at 1.5%, as expected

 

The dollar is mostly weaker against the majors ahead of the US CPI data. Yen and Kiwi are outperforming, while sterling and Stockie are underperforming. EM currencies are mostly firmer. ZAR and KRW are outperforming, while PHP and HUF are underperforming. MSCI Asia Pacific was up 0.3%, with the Nikkei falling 0.4%. MSCI EM is up 1.1% on the day, with the Shanghai Composite rising 0.5%. Euro Stoxx 600 is up 0.6% near midday, while futures are pointing to a higher open for US markets. The 10-year US yield is up 1 bp at 2.84%. Commodity prices are mostly lower, with WTI oil down 0.8%, copper down 0.5%, and gold up 0.2%.

There is an unease that continues to hang over the market. It is as if a shoe fell last week, and most investors seem to be waiting for the other shoe to drop. It is hard to imagine the kind of body blow that the equities took last week without some kind of follow-through and knock-on effects.

Moreover, the focus today on US CPI may prove for naught. The consensus view is that the rise in US average hourly earnings spurred inflation fears and a sell-off in US Treasuries, triggering the slide in stocks. Journalists and investors have put much weight in today’s CPI report. We think it is too much, but will be looking at how the market responds to the news as an important reflection of market psychology.

Specifically, the 0.2% and 0.3% rise in the core and headline rates respectively will be unable to prevent the y/y rates from slipping lower, due to the larger rise in January 2017. We do look for US inflation to edge higher this year, but see it as beginning later in Q1 and running through early Q3.

First, we note that the market appears to have nearly fully discounted the likelihood of a rate hike next month. It has also priced in about a 60% chance of follow-up hike in June. Second, as of February 6, speculators in the futures market had a record short 10-year Treasury position. The yield has not been below 2.80% this week and put in the recent high on Monday near 2.89%. The technical indicators favor consolidation or higher prices (lower yields). Third, the S&P 500 closed higher yesterday for the third advancing session. It finished yesterday a hair above the 38.2% retracement of its swoon (~2662.65). The 50% retracement is a little below 2703.

The MSCI Asia Pacific Index rose 0.3%, but it was dragged down by the heaviness of Japanese stocks. The Topix fell 0.8% and is now at a four-month low. Excluding Japan, the MSCI Asia Pacific Index was up 0.9%. We note that foreign interest has returned to South Korean equities. Foreign investors bought a modest $154 mln of Korean shares today. European markets are following the US and Asia higher. The Dow Jones Stoxx 600 is up about 0.7% in broad gains.

The yen remains very much the main focus in the foreign exchange market. The dollar fell 1.25% against the yen last week, while rising against all the other major currencies. It has fallen each day this week, and earlier today fell to a low near JPY106.85, its lowest level since November 2016. The recent yen moves appear to be led by Japanese-based investors. It could be increasing hedge ratios. It could be reducing new buying of foreign securities. Some link recent yen strength to efforts to curb retail leverage.

Thus far the reaction from Japanese officials has been quite modest. It jives with our understanding that at least some officials can accept a rise in the yen, provided it is gradual and part of a broader move in the foreign exchange market. The yen’s strength is not simply against the dollar. It is appreciating on a trade-weighted basis. In fact, with today’s gains (~0.7%), it has appreciated for the seventh consecutive session on a trade-weighted basis. Over this period, it has appreciated by more than 3%. The pace and breadth of the yen’s appreciation would seem to challenge Japanese official resolve.

However, given the attitude of the US Administration, Japanese officials will tread carefully. The OECD, for example, considers the yen the most undervalued currencies on a PPP-basis (~9.75% undervalued at JPY107.50). Also, Japan has a current account surplus of around 4% of GDP last year, up from less than 1% in 2013-2014.

Separately, Japan’s first estimate of Q4 17 GDP was disappointing. The economy appears to have nearly stagnated, with the q/q pace of 0.1% in real terms and flat q/q in nominal terms. The bright spot was consumption (0.5% after -0.6% in Q3), but business spending was weaker than expected (0.7% rather than 1.1%). Public investment and residential investment fell, while trade was a net wash. The GDP deflator, which some suggest may be a better measure of inflation than CPI, was flat after a revised 0.2% gain in Q3 17.

Stops apparently were triggered on the break of JPY107. The reactionary bounce that also began in Tokyo is running out of steam in the European morning near JPY107.50. If the JPY106.80 area is taken out, the next chart level is in the JPY106.40-JPY106.60 area, but many will set their sights on JPY105.

Investors have been unable to get excited about much else today. A slightly higher two-year inflation expectation in New Zealand has the local dollar leading the majors, eclipsing the yen, with a 0.6% advance. It is the fourth consecutive advancing session. The Swedish krona is dramatically unchanged following the Riksbank meeting, that shifted the first rate hike to H2 this year from mid-year, and tweaked lower its inflation forecasts.

The euro initially extended its three-day advance into today’s session, and poked briefly above $1.2390 to see its best level since last Wednesday. It was met with good offers, and returned to where NY left it yesterday (~$1.2350). Support is seen near $1.2340, and if risk appetites return following the US CPI, the euro can resurface above $1.2400. That said, there are more than 2 bln euros of options struck between $1.2340 and $1.2350 and another 1.5 bln euros struck at $1.2400, all of which expire today.

The euro is straddling resistance near GBP0.8900. On an intra-day basis, it reached nearly GBP0.8930, it is has struggled to close above it since late last November. Against the dollar, sterling is trading within yesterday’s ranges, but is still within last Friday’s range (~$1.3765-$1.3985).

Things are moving quickly in South Africa. The ANC announced it will proceed with a no confidence motion against President Zuma tomorrow, adding that a new president may be chosen then. Police also raided the home of the Gupta family, who have been linked to possible corruption in conjunction with Zuma. Three people were arrested. Whilst these are all positive developments, we believe most of the good news has already been largely priced in.

The CEE economies remain robust. Hungary Q4 GDP grew 4.4% y/y vs. 3.9% in Q3. Next policy meeting is February 27. Poland Q4 GDP grew 5.1% y/y vs. 4.9% in Q3. Czech Q4 GDP will be reported Friday, which is expected to grow 5.2% y/y vs. 5.0% in Q3. Yet of the three, only the Czech central bank is tightening. Poland is on hold until 2019 while Hungary is still easing via unconventional measures. Both will have to follow Czech example sooner rather than later.

Bank of Thailand kept rates steady at 1.5%, as expected. Inflation was 0.7% y/y in January, below the 1-4% target range. However, the bank forecast that inflation will pick up and return to that range in Q2. While the economy is fairly robust, we do not think the central bank is in any hurry to hike rates. Indeed, Assistant Governor Jantarangs said it was too early to discuss tightening.