Category Archives: Global Economics

Global Central Bank Easing Nearing Important Inflexion Point

Recent comments from the Fed, ECB and BoJ have rattled financial markets after a summer of relatively low volatility.

The correction in financial markets has so far been relatively modest, particularly for equities and the dollar. But the questions remain where global monetary policy goes from here, the implications for asset valuations and ultimately whether elevated global risk appetite will correct more forcefully.

My core view is that eight years of ultra-low (and in some cases negative) central bank policy rates and expansive bond-buying programs have helped stabilise global growth and inflation, albeit at low levels.

At the same time, the costs of ultra-loose monetary policy, including asset price bubbles, distortions in bond markets, pressure on the banking sector and even rising inequality, may be starting to outweigh the benefits.

Therefore, major central banks, with the exception of the BoJ, may refrain from loosening monetary policy further near-term.

I would certainly expect central bank policy rate cuts to become increasingly less frequent than in the past and the ECB and BoE to keep the modalities of their current QE programs broadly unchanged for now.

At the very least, the world’s most influential central bankers may going forward tweak a discourse which has in recent years largely focused on doing “whatever it takes”.

To be clear, the risk near-term remains biased towards more central bank monetary policy easing. Bar the Fed and possibly a handful of EM central banks still fighting weak currencies and high inflation, no major central bank is likely to hike policy rates or tighten monetary policy this year, in my view. That’s a story for 2017, at the earliest.

But if we have indeed reached an inflection point in global central bank monetary policy, if anything financial markets will become more sensitive to any downturns in still tepid global growth and inflation and to the negative side-effects of loose monetary policy.

In this context higher volatility is likely to prevail and global risk appetite may struggle to forcefully regain traction for now. Read more

Fed – Sense of déjà vu

Recent US data have likely put a Fed rate hike at its 21st September policy meeting beyond reach, with a post-US presidential election rate hike now the more feasible scenario.

US labour market data for August – sandwiched between very weak ISM prints – suggest that there is still slack in the US labour market. Aggregate weekly payrolls in the private sector rose only 3.5% year-on-year, which in turn is likely taming inflation.

Job creation growth was stable at around 1.9% yoy, which in itself is compatible with a Fed hike in September. But working hours fell in August, earnings growth slowed further and the pool of potentially available workers has now increased for three consecutive months.

These numbers will have done little to convince Chairperson Yellen that the time for reflection is over and the market is now only pricing rate hikes of 5bp and 13bp, respectively, for the Fed’s September and December meetings.

There is a sense of déjà-vu and the path of least resistance is probably for the Fed to keep rates unchanged this month while keeping alive the possibility of a hike on 14th December.

Moreover, the Fed will have the added benefit in December of knowing the still uncertain outcome of the US presidential elections scheduled for 8th November.

The Fed remains apolitical and has in the past hiked rates in the run-up to US presidential elections, but a Clinton victory and a positive US and global market reaction are probably necessary if insufficient conditions for the Fed to hike with conviction.

Should the Fed hike in December, this almost unprecedented glacial pace of rate hikes would be in line with my January forecast of only one or two hikes in 2016.

Financial markets’ reaction to recent US data has been a familiar one – lower rates, weaker dollar and stronger EM currencies and global equities. But it has revealed little about how markets are likely to respond if and when the next Fed rate hike comes into clearer focus.

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It’s oh so quiet…for now

Frequent u-turns in the Fed’s policy stance, central banks’ lack of monetary policy credibility, currency wars and gyrations in macro data are being blamed for financial market volatility and record lows in government bond yields. The forthcoming EU referendum has also buffeted UK financial markets.

But on the whole, financial markets and macro data have since 1 April showed a far greater degree of stability than in preceding quarters.

US interest rate, equity and currency markets have weathered the gyrations in the Fed’s policy stance and the ebbs and flows in US data. German and Japanese government bond yields have fallen but ultimately been less volatile than in Q1. The World Equity Index has also been constrained in a reasonably narrow range, thanks at least in part to signs that global GDP growth stabilised in Q1.

This relative stability has not been confined to the dollar. So far, Q2 2016 has been the least volatile quarter since January 2015 – as defined by the low-high range using daily data – for most major nominal effective exchange rates (NEERs). These include developed and EM currencies, as well as commodity and non-commodity currencies. Among G7 currencies, the euro NEER has been particularly stable in a 2.1% range.

The picture is also one of relative calm in emerging markets, with the pick-up in foreign capital inflows in April and June and in commodity prices since March helping to stabilise EM currencies without central banks having to draw on still significant FX reserves.

Commodity prices, including crude oil, have risen sharply so far in Q2 but their volatility has remained in line with historical standards, particularly in recent weeks. This has contributed to greater stability in commodity currencies, with the exception of the Australian dollar.

If anything, this lack of directionality has forced financial market players to be light-footed and adopt short-term tactical strategies. The question now is whether this relative calm is here to stay or whether it augurs more violent corrections as was the case earlier this year.

The UK referendum on EU accession has the potential to be far more destabilising to financial markets than the BoJ’s policy meeting on 16 June and in particular the Fed’s meeting the day before. While UK markets would likely feel the brunt of a decision to leave the EU, the euro would also likely weaken and global equity markets conceivably sell off.

The Fed’s policy meeting on 27th July could also prove disruptive at a time of potentially reduced summer-liquidity. Read more

Chinese PMI very sensitive to underlying economic activity

The Federal Reserve has 23 more days worth of data and market developments to analyse before its policy meeting.

China’s official and (unofficial) Caixin manufacturing data for May will be released tomorrow and Friday before the usual deluge of monthly economic indicators. Markets tend to give weight to the early release of PMI data in the world’s second largest economy and the question is whether this is justified.

Looking at data for the past decade, there was a good correlation up till about 2012 between China’s official manufacturing PMI and exports, imports, industrial output, retail sales and GDP, with the added advantage of the PMI leading by a couple of months. However, since then these correlations on the surface appear to have broken down, even if we use the sub-components of headline PMI.

The main issue is seemingly one of calibration. Since 2012, the official manufacturing PMI has only fallen marginally in a narrow 49.0-51.7 range while monthly economic indicators have weakened considerably. If we shorten the time scale, the PMI’s correlations with monthly data again look reasonable.

Markets need to take into account this increased sensitivity of the PMI data, as small moves may ultimately be associated with significant changes in underlying economic activity.

Even so, the official manufacturing PMI has seemingly over-estimated China’s economic strength in recent months. An alternative view point is that monthly economic indicators are about to rebound quite sharply.

The unofficial Caxin manufacturing PMI data – which have been more volatile than the official measure – and the official non-manufacturing PMI have even over longer time-frames been somewhat better correlated with monthly economic indicators. They too point to a rebound in economic activity in coming months.

Please see Appendix for complete set of correlation charts.

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Sticking to forecasts: Fed summer hike, Dollar hat-trick still on the cards, Modestly weaker EM currencies, UK to stay in EU and Sterling to appreciate

The Federal Reserve’s minutes of its 27th April policy meeting released last week set the tone for a possible June or July rate hike. On balance, recent US and global data are unlikely to have fundamentally changed the Federal Reserve’s view that a summer hike may be appropriate.

This is in line with my long-held forecast that the Federal Reserve would likely hike once or twice this year, with the first hike in June. I recently updated my forecast to a July hike as it gives the Fed more time to assess US and global data and the result of the UK referendum on 23rd June. The risk is that the very threat of a hike derails financial markets sufficiently for the Federal Reserve to postpone its second-hike-in-a-decade to later this year. Read more

US Economy Not at Full Employment

Markets, which tend to focus on US non-farm payrolls and the unemployment rate, may be relying on an incomplete and arguably inaccurate picture of the US labour market which fails to fully take into account a still sizeable pool of available workers.

Job creation has been robust in recent years, but the working age population has also increased while the share of full-time employees remains modest. As a result, the ratio of the working-age population employed in full-time jobs, currently 48.7%, remains well below its historical average.

Importantly this ratio tends to lead the growth rate in private sector employees’ hourly earnings and points to earnings growth only rising modestly in coming months from around 2.4% year-on-year.

The policy implication, all other things being equal, is that the Federal Reserve may not have to worry near-term about a tight labour market boosting pay-packets and in turn wage-led inflation. With US GDP growth having collapsed in Q1, global growth having slowed further to around 2.6% year-on-year and global PMI and Chinese trade data showing little bounce in April, the Fed’s decision to keep rates on hold so far this year is at least defendable.

My core scenario of one or two Fed rate hikes this year remains feasible but my expectation that the Fed would pull the trigger in June will likely be proven wrong. The Fed fund futures market has all but discounted a mid-year hike, currently pricing in a probability of only 8% for a 25bp hike, versus 23% back on 26 April. Read more

Fed pulls off 40-word Houdini

The Fed kept rates on hold yesterday – pretty much a done deal – and its statement yesterday following its two-day policy meeting was very short on new insights.

But it was in line with my expectation that while the Fed would present a marginally less dovish assessment of the global economy, it would paint a still cloudy picture of the US and nurse the recently faltering rally in global risk appetite. US equities closed up 0.3% yesterday and 2, 5 and 10yr US treasury yields are down 6-10bps since Tuesday.

The Fed faces seven rocky weeks ahead of its 15th June meeting. It will likely want to keep the door ajar for a hike and will therefore not want to see US yields break out of range. But the market’s violent reaction today to the BoJ’s unchanged monetary policy is also a stark reminder that an overly-hawkish Fed could derail global risk appetite and in turn delay any Fed hikes.

With this in mind, my core scenario of a June hike is likely to be tested in coming weeks and the risk remains that flat-lining emerging market currencies will come under pressure. Read more

It’s a Fed hiking cycle Jim, but not as we know it

Tomorrow’s Fed policy meeting decision is unlikely to throw up any surprises, with the market having priced out any chance of a hike. The real focus will be on the language of the accompanying statement.

The market has arguably already priced in the possibility of a slightly less dovish Fed, with US yields at a one-month high. The US labour market remains robust, inflation expectations have ratcheted up, as have house prices. Chinese economic activity has picked up and global equities and commodity prices have surged in the past couple of months.

But the Fed is also likely to reiterate its concerns about slowing global growth, US business investments and exports and the headwind to US growth from the manufacturing sector. This nuanced picture is summarised in the heat-maps in Figures 5 & 6.

Moreover, the Fed has made clear it would look beyond potentially temporary developments and could well play down the recent rebound in global energy prices and in major economies such as China.

I therefore expect the Fed to be constructive enough tomorrow to keep US yields in reasonably narrow ranges but to stop short of encouraging a significant repricing for a June hike.

This remains a challenging balancing act for the Fed as equity markets and non-commodity currencies have been flat-lining recently. If the Fed intensifies its dovish warnings, markets could start looking more closely at what is keeping the Fed from delivering only its second hike in a decade. Conversely, a more hawkish stance could spook a market attuned to dovish Fed rhetoric.

My core scenario remains for the Fed to hike rates once or twice this year, which would be sufficient to expose the soft under-belly of EM currencies. Read more

Global Growth Likely slower in Q3, modest rebound in Q4 possible

Global growth likely slowed in Q3, dragged lower by OECD, in line with soft global PMI

Countries which have so far released Q3 GDP data account for about half of world GDP, using IMF purchasing power parity (PPP) weights. Based on these data, global real GDP growth in Q3 edged slightly higher to 3.2% year-on-year (yoy) from 3.1% yoy in Q2 (see Figure 1), according to my estimates[1]. Read more

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