UK – the emergence of economic policy clarity

Many of the key concerns over the outlook for UK economic policy have been eased over the past week. Concerns over Bank of England independence and of the possibility of monetary policy being focussed on the GBP or imported inflation have all eased. The conditions have been laid for a breaking of the recent negative correlation between GBP weakness and Gilt yields. However, concerns have grown that the government will prove insufficiently ambitious with respect to fiscal expansion, which adds to our concern that the BoE is over-stating the outlook for economic growth into 2017. Further monetary expansion into H1 2017 appears likely. While there are some significant potential pot-holes for the global economy to traverse, most notably the forthcoming US Presidential election, it is time to start looking for opportunities to scale into long-Gilt position by building-up DV01 to the target level into weakness. From a medium-term perspective  Gilt yields have yet to reach their cycle low.

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The Gilt sell-off, mounting UK economic risks and an inflation scare that rhymes

The continued negative correlation between GBP weakness and Gilt yields is a threat to the UK economy as it at least in part negates the expansionary effect of BOE monetary easing and indeed of GBP weakness. It may also lessen the ambition of the UK government to initiate a much-needed fiscal stimulus. This is concerning since the UK economy is particularly ill equipped to withstand the Brexit shock. Households – the core driver of the post-GFC economic recovery – face the shock with a weakened balance sheet: nominal wage growth remains weak, and rising inflation will squeeze disposable incomes; households have rapidly increased leverage in recent years; flow of funds data shows UK households to be dis-saving at a rate last seen on the eve of the GFC.

 In terms of the drivers of Gilt weakness, the variable we are least worried about is the concern over inflation. While higher import process will see the CPI exceed the BOE’s 2% inflation target, insufficient wage growth will mean this poses more of a threat to growth than to medium-term inflation. This is a story of FX and commodity price shock to headline inflation that we have seen play-out many times in G10 economies over the past decade. Now is no different. BE inflation spreads have already widened to the point where they significantly over-state the likely path of inflation. Similarly, concerns about the impact of a foreign investor flight from Gilts may prove over-stated. However, while we have maintained our bullish medium-term forecasts for Gilts, any near-term appetite to fade the rise in nominal yields is tempered by an understanding of how it may take some time for the market to recognise that the current inflation scare is over-stated and also by the emerging signs that the government may persist in its recent criticism of the BOE’s loose monetary policy. The latter poses a particular threat to the Gilt market, and ultimately the GBP and UK economy, if it reinforces the increasingly common – and persistently incorrect – viewpoint that the UK requires tighter monetary policy.

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BOE’s need to allow the GBP slump to run its course and break the negative correlation to Gilt yields.

The downside risks to the GBP have grown profound and are increasingly being actualised. We looked for 1.20 as an appropriate target for GBP/USD post-Brexit. However, this is far too conservative in light of the growing signs that hard-Brexit is the central scenario and the recent uncertainty over reflationary policy, amid government criticism of Bank of England and signs of a less ambition fiscal stimulus to come in the November statement. The critical thing for the authorities to do is to allow the GBP slide to take its course. The memories of 1992 highlight how self-defeating it would be to focus policy on an exchange rate in contrary to the needs of the economy. A greater concern is the need to reverse the emerging negative correlation between GBP and Gilt yields. This will require the Bank of England to reiterate how its monetary policy framework is intact and to restore confidence in the durability of monetary easing. The slump in the probability of a November rate cut by the BOE to just 8.4% might provide a “lottery ticket” way of positioning for the BOE to make such a statement. However, the uncertainties over the government’s response to the GBP slump means that positioning for further GBP deprecation may, for now, be a cleaner trade than looking for a renewed downtrend in Gilt yields. Indeed, were the authorities to fail to quell speculation that the GBP could become more of a focus of policy, the surge in Gilt yields and associated risk of capital reflux from foreign investors, may only be beginning.

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The falling neutral Fed Funds rate – a yield curve anchor and insulation against a Fed policy error

The Fed’s search for a reason to raise interest rates risks creating a policy error. There is no compelling reason for the Fed to hike, or to forego its battle-tested strategy of trying to manage asymmetric economic risks. Moreover, one consequence of a steady downtrend in the Fed’s neutral policy rate is that monetary tightening will bite far sooner than in previous cycles: a 25bp hike could be equivalent to a ~75bp hike pre-GFC. The market appears right to be sceptical about the Fed’s “targeted” rate hike trajectory. However, a lower neutral policy rate would provide resilience to the US yield curve in the event of a Fed hike since this trend is compressing the “equilibrium” term structure of yields. Indeed, this lower term structure helped limit the scale of the summer sell-off in US interest rates, a move we expect to continue to be retraced. We see value in positioning for lower 10yr US yields in both spot and forward space. One risk for the Fed is that while it agonises over how to appropriately conduct monetary policy in a world of a lowered neutral policy rate, by hiking prematurely it could exacerbate its dilemma by helping to maintain this very downtrend in the neutral rate.

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Can the Saudi Arabian FX peg persist in a world of diminished OPEC relevance?

In the 6-months since we first undertook a detailed analysis of the Saudi Arabian economy, little has happened to change our conviction that the 30-year old USD/SAR peg is inconsistent with a world where the price of oil is increasingly inelastic to the policies of OPEC. Despite the recent pick-up in oil prices, Saudi Arabia is still faced with the challenge of a widening current account deficit and declining FX reserves, while the need to limit the hit to GDP of lower oil revenues has resulted in a 21.6% of GDP budget deficit. Some optimism has been generated by the government’s plan to fund a Sovereign Wealth Fund by selling part of Saudi Aramco. However, establishing a SWF aimed at generating non-oil income may in part be inconsistent with the SAR-peg in the current climate: the much mooted sale of a 5% stake in Aramco over the next 18 months would likely generate funds that are equivalent to the decline in Saudi FX reserves over the past 12 months. Long-USD/SAR positions in the FX forwards continue to be attractive, as a larger risk premium needs to be attached to the SAR-peg, while the carry cost of such a position continues to represent a small price for adding convexity to an investor’s portfolio

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The BOE delivers a Brexit ease: the baton now has to pass to fiscal policy

The Bank of England has more than made up for it’s surprise inaction last month as today’s policy announcement met our expectations for both a rate cut and the resumption of Quantitative Easing. While the GBP60bn expansion of QE was less than the GBP100bn we were expecting, the BOE over-delivered in other areas: it signposted a likely move to a near-ZIRP policy this year; it unveiled a new scheme to help the transmission of the policy rate cut to the real economy in a manner which will also ease the burden of lower interest rates on bank earnings; it announced a GBP10bn purchase scheme for corporate bonds. Following today’s announcements many of our existing market forecasts might appear conservative. While we still expect GBP/USD to head below 1.20, our 25bp target for 10y Gilt yields appears too high. Indeed, with Gilts expected to be increasing viewed as collateral rather than yield instruments over the coming quarters, the downside for Gilt yields is substantial. Our target for the GBP IRS 10fwd 10yr of 1.0% also looks conservative with 0.75% appearing more likely. However, from an economic growth perspective today’s announcements can only have a muted impact in offsetting what we expect to be a 3% Brexit effect on UK GDP growth. The baton now must pass to the government where we believe a 2% of GDP fiscal stimulus is urgently required.

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The weak CNY and the potential for a trend acceleration

One of our core medium-term investment themes has been for the emergence of a cyclically and secularly weak CNY, and we continue to hold to this view. The Chinese authorities’ current embrace of a weak-CNY is expected to persist, with the pace of CNY depreciation continuing to out-strip that priced into the FX forward curve. We also continue to favour positioning for CNY weakness via the NDF curve rather than the CNH offshore forward market, and accept paying wider forward points in return for reduced fixing risk. The method that the authorities have deployed to weaken the CNY has allowed the sizable depreciation seen over the past few quarters to go somewhat below the market’s radar screen. Nonetheless, continued CNY weakness may increasingly influence the performance of currencies and markets in Asia ex-Japan. The current liquidity driven rally in emerging markets may therefore provide attractive opportunities to short Asian currencies such as KRW and SGD, and also initiate some interest rate trades such as recieving KRW IRS and implementing SGD IRS curve flatteners. An additional appeal of a long-USD/CNY position is that the position contains an embedded long convexity component. There are growing non-linear economic risks associated with China’s economic slowdown given the combination of surplus industrial capacity, an increasingly inefficient allocation of capital and exceptionally high corporate leverage. These risk will increasingly require ultra-accomodative monetary settings to help limit the rise of credit risk and NPLs, and such a policy is consistent with a faster pace of CNY weakness. The unprecedented recent stability of the CNY IRS curve reflects the current policy stasis: PBoC is trying to strike a balance between supporting economic growth with low rates and limiting the rise in USD-demand; ultimately, as growth continues to slow the need for lower interest rates will prevail and the CNY IRS 2s5s spread is likely to steepen sharply as the fixing rate is allowed to decline.

The USD/CNY NDF curve continues to under-price the depreciation potential for the CNY

CNY1

Source: Bloomberg

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The Global Growth Crisis – A better coordination of reflationary levers?

One positive side effect of the UK vote for Brexit appears to be a policy shift away from austerity towards an embrace of reflationary fiscal policy. This has the potential to meaningfully change the UK’s economic growth outlook. Moreover, the expected UK policy shift is part of an evolving global theme whereby more policy-makers are starting to address one of the key factors behind the slow-burning global growth crisis – a lack of policy coordination between reflationary levers. The US presidential candidates each propose a more activist fiscal policy, Canada’s government is enacting its election pledge of fiscal stimulus, while Japan may soon combine fresh fiscal stimulus with QQE3 and potentially the “Hail Mary” opinion of Helicopter money. These are encouraging signs, and may offer some hope that the world economy may not reach the deflationary end-state that appears to be it’s current destination. However, optimism needs to be tempered. Any fiscal easing in the UK will be aimed at avoiding recession rather than accelerating recovery, and may fall far short of the 2% of GDP we feel is required over the next 12 months. The UK policy change reduces severe left-tail risk with respect to the GBP rather than comprising a bullish scenario: GBP/USD is still expected to move below 1.20. Globally, with a few exceptions, progress towards sufficiently aggressive and broad-based policy reflation remains patchy, and geographic coordination remains poor as policy-makers still address multi-lateral problems with bi-lateral solutions. Nonetheless, that more policy-makers are embracing more economically optimal policy options can only be a positive trend for global growth. In terms of Japan, which is closer to the point of radical policy coordination and where policy mis-steps of the past 12 months require bold action from the government and Bank of Japan, we see value in owning deep out of the money upside in USD/JPY while CAD/JPY could be an interesting play on relative policy dynamics. Meanwhile, stay receved JPY IRS.

The BOJ’s soon to be majority ownership of the JGB market blurs the line between QQE and helicopter money

BOJ JGB

Source: CEIC

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Eurozone – Battling deflation with a depleted toolkit

Within a slowing global economy that is replete with potential event shocks, the Eurozone stands apart from other major economies in terms of its lack of policy flexibility. Monetary policy has to remain the dominant source of reflation, with the diminishing multiplier effect this entails, while fiscal policy remains overly tight and regulatory policy comprises a notable tightening of monetary conditions. To make matters worse, Germany comprises a “deflation engine” at the heart of the Eurozone. This is an unstable equilibrium with respect to the medium-term durability of the Euro. More immediately a lack of policy flexibility comes at a time when some key inflation measures in Europe are flashing deflation warnings while concerns are building with respect to the banking sector solvency of some Eurozone countries, most notably Italy. The negative interest rate and QE policies of the ECB complicate translating these risks into investment themes given that they seek to suppress credit and risk premium in financial asset. However, the current structural and cyclical forces in Europe reinforce the value in core bond markets despite the ticker-shock of low/ negative yields: Bunds, for instance, should continue to trade more as collateral instruments with an embedded FX option rather than yield products. There is also value emerging in trades that fade the ECB action with respect to select non-core sovereign bond markets, with the proviso that trades need to be structured appropriately: a BTP curve steepener, or short BTPs and long Bunds or USTs in the 10-yr area offer value. Meanwhile, Eurostoxx are expected to persist their marked under-performance of US equities while high yield and financial credit spreads appear increasingly vulnerable, particularly as they lie outside the ambit of ECB QE. Finally, an increasingly structural outflow of capital is expected to establish a medium-term trend of EUR weakness.

EUR 5fwd 5yr inflation swap: warning lights and wailing klaxons regarding the prospect for price stability.

EUR1

Source: Bloomberg

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Brexit – “Exit, pursued by a bear” and the need to stay short-GBP and received GBP rates

In the post-Brexit political turmoil that has engulfed the UK, the Bank of England is providing some required adult supervision. It’s early diagnosis of the economic impact of the Brexit vote allied to it’s policy response – talk of monetary easing, and the Financial Policy Committee’s easing of financial conditions via the regulatory channel – are necessary and welcome. However, a theme of the post-crisis global economy is that monetary policy should not bear the brunt of reflationary policies due to diminished money multipliers. Fiscal policy needs to be more active. Unfortunately, the government’s talk of corporate tax cuts will do little to address the looming problem of insufficient aggregate demand and of the risk that UK consumers copy their US counter-parts and increase their savings rates. A policy response that is uncoordinated across reflationary levers implies continued downside for the GBP, which we expect to depreciate to below 1.20 vs. the USD. Meanwhile GBP interest rate markets have continued reason for strength. We continue to see the 10yr Gilt yield moving flat to a lowered (0.25%) policy rate, and over the coming months see receiving the GBP IRS 10fwd 10yr becoming a higher beta play on the GBP yield curve.

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