The compelling economic challenge in most major economies is for an improved coordination of policy across reflationary levers, so that policy-makers can tackle the slow burning global growth crisis. The extreme degree of policy coordination – Helicopter money – may be a desired end-state for many economies. There is of course a dark side to such a policy of “inflationary” deficit financing. Emerging markets are replete with examples of central banks under-writing fiscal spending in a manner that has spurred economic dislocation and undermined investment returns. The damage these policies have reaped on various emerging markets stems from the fact that, unlike candidates for helicopter money, many emerging market central banks have monetised fiscal debt at a time when there is no zero bound problem for monetary policy and when the key economic challenges are not insufficient demand and downside risks to inflation. Argentina provides a prime example of the problems of inappropriate inflationary deficit financing. A decade of populist rule left the new President with a legacy of unsustainable budget deficits, high inflation, weak economic growth and an unpredictable regulatory regime. In contrast to many key leading economies, Argentina’s challenge is to disentangle monetary and fiscal policy and thereby return to economic orthodoxy. Reining in the budget deficit is a critical success criterion for the government’s stabilisation plan. While the government faces a daunting economic challenge, the market has expressed confidence in President Macri by maintaining long positions in the country’s Eurobond debt. By contrast, following a maxi-devaluation, sentiment in the ARS remains weak. However, we think that the risk premia on the ARS priced into the FX forward curve is too high since a tight monetary policy and a more stable ARS could be crucial components of a stabilisation plan over the next 12-months. We see value in establishing short-USD/ARS positions, which can potentially bring to investor portfolios a high return trade that is uncorrelated to prevailing market beta.
The ARS risk premium priced into the FX forward curve seems to high: opportunity to short-USD/ARS
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
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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
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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.
A fragile world economy that faces an ever more daunting battle to combat deflation and where there is a growing concern that traditional reflationary policy levers are reaching their effective limits, could have done without another event shock. And yet that is exactly what it has received as the UK voted for Brexit. To make it worse, the subsequent political unravelling in the UK had created the impression that the country is rudderless as it seeks to navigate through the dangerous path the electorate has chosen. The PM has resigned and remains as a care-taker, the main opposition party is in turmoil with a leader at best luke-warm to Europe and whose consistently weak performance has sparked internecine warfare in the party, while it has become clear that the Brexit leaders do not have a plan of implementation or are even aware of the full implications of Brexit. The market turmoil appears fully justified. That said, for international markets the Brexit impact is likely to be more akin to the December-February market rout – painful, deep but finite. Brexit is not the trigger point to ”The Big One”, the financial crisis we fear is coming. However, for the UK – unless reason prevails and Article 50 is not triggered – the outlook is bleak. GBP has enormous downside potential, while Gilts may become Bund-like in that they are viewed as collateral rather than yield instruments. 10-yr Gilts could trade flat to a lowered policy rate.
In light of the Bank of Korea’s surprise policy rate cut in June, and the more recent rise in global risk premia folllowing the Brexit vote, it appears timely to expand on one of our long-running themes – that Korea is on a medium-term path to a zero interest rate regime. This reflects a number of external and domestic economic trends, which are reducing economic growth potential and maintaining a medium-term disinflationary path, which has the potential to become a deflationary one. We retain our bullish view on the Korea’s interest rate market, and also see the opportunity for forward starting curve steepeners to provide a cost effective way to add convexity into a portfolio. The post-Brexit slide in risk appetite has also accelerated what we expect to be an emerging trend – KRW weakness.
KRW IRS curve – 2s5s spot and 1yr forward.
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The US interest rate market is maintaining longer-term path to lower trading ranges in terms of yields. This is under-pinned by a lower “neutral” real Fed Funds rate. It also reflects an underlying weakness in the US economy, which reduces the resilience of the expansion to domestic and external shocks and which also questions the Fed’s presumed exceptionalism – it’s view that it can tighten policy while the rest of the world is looking to ease. Indeed, despite yet another ratcheting lower of it’s presumed path of policy tightening at its June FOMC meeting, the Fed still appears overly optimistic on the path of rate hikes. Once the Brexit-related gyrations in global risk premia have passed, the underlying trend of lower yields in term-US interest rates is expected to continue. Investors will continue to be rewarded for retaining core “received” positions. Meanwhile, one trend which is supporting the declining trend in UST and US IRS yields – falling real yields – is also serving to preclude a source of “illusory” alpha which benefitted the asset management industry pre-crisis, and which is now supporting the rise of lower cost passive investment strategies.
If global investors are nervous about buying bonds at record low yield levels, spare a thought for strategic investors in Gilts. Not only are yields at record lows, but Gilt investors are noted for their pessimism towards the asset and a forthcoming binary risk – the Brexit vote – is finely balanced between being a left- and right-tail event. One comfort, however, is that many of the concerns about Gilts suffering from a “sell-UK” phenomena if Brexit becomes actualised are based on a common misconception about the role that foreign capital reflux plays in developed countries with floating currencies. While our bias is for a Remain victory and a removal of the Brexit risk premium from Gilts and the GBP, our conviction is low. Moreover, the weak global economy could limit the scale and longevity of a correction higher in Gilt yields in the event of a Remain win.
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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