The USD has not reacted well to the early days of a Trump Presidency. Hopes for a pivot to the political centre have receded into the rear view mirror as Trump has started enacting his policy pledges. As controversial as these policies have been, the nature of the implementation process has been an additional source of concern: a lack of planning, coordination and prioritisation has inflated concerns that Trump and his team are not ready for administrative Prime Time. However, to adapt a sporting phrase – when looking at the longer-term impact of Trump on the USD and US assets one has to try and follow the ball rather than just the man. We still believe that Trump’s economic policies have the potential to create a sugar rush period of stronger economic growth in the US and lay the foundation for a USD overshoot. This does not mean that the experiment with Trumponomics is likely to end well. His policies are expected to ultimately exacerbate the slow burning growth and income crisis that laid the foundations for his election victory. Trump rode a populist wave but he is no populist. This feeds into our view that the US interest rate market is reaching levels where investors can look to buy-USTs/ receive IRS. Nonetheless, over the coming months the current correction lower in the USD is likely to provide a compelling buying opportunity, particularly against the currencies of Asia ex-Japan where Trump poses a substantial threat to the region’s already struggling growth model. Meanwhile, his policy platform and his administration’s decision-making process both reinforce our view that the global markets have moved to a new and higher volatility regime.
Hopes have been building that the ineffective global policy response to the slow-burning global growth crisis would be transformed, that belatedly policy would be coordinated across reflationary levers and there would be reduced reliance on monetary easing. The election victory of Donald Trump embodied this hope given his commitment to a fiscal stimulus. However, while the expected combination of looser fiscal policy, tighter monetary policy and faster growth in the US into 2017 has underpinned a surge in the USD, hopes for a broader global reflation are likely to be disappointed. Outside of the US, much of the G10 remains overly reliant on monetary stimulus. The latest example was the UK and the government’s Autumn Statement, or mini budget. We believe that the coming Brexit-related downside risk to growth requires a 2% of GDP fiscal stimulus, to augment the Bank of England’s August policy ease. In contrast, the government announced a tightening of fiscal policy over the coming 5 years and austerity remains it’s political leitmotif. This adds downside risk to UK economic growth and to the GBP which we still expect to hear towards parity vs. the USD, while Gilts could be poised for a recovery. More broadly, the increasingly divergent policy mix of the US compared to other G10 economies is likely to help spur further USD appreciation against major currencies into 2017. It will also maintain a trend of weakening emerging market currencies. Continue reading
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.
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.
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.
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.
The policymaker response to the slow burning growth crisis of the global economy remains uncoordinated across geographies and reflationary levers. It is a path that leads to mounting non-linear risks for global markets and growth. The global economy needs a more effective and coordinated policy response, one that can raise aggregate demand but also prevent some of the increasingly persistent, cyclical restraints to economic growth becoming structural. While there are growing signs that some key countries may switch to more effective reflationary policies, in all too many cases the political barrier to appropriate policy remains high, and may first require a period of pronounced market and economic dislocation which could mean a pyrrhic victory for investor portfolios positioned for a switch to reflation. However, short-of a sufficiently bold policy reflation, there are a number of policies which could meaningfully improve cyclical and secular global growth and which may face a lower political barrier to implementation. Some of these are already emerging onto the global policy agenda, and have the potential to provide a much needed upside risk to growth and market performance.
US worker productivity – An example of how insufficient and misdirected reflationary policies can lad to a cyclical restraint to growth becoming a structural one
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