RBNZ hikes by 50-bps
The Reserve Bank of New Zealand has raised policy rates by 0.50% to 2.0% this morning, with Governor Orr setting a hawkish tone in the press conference afterwards. In the statement itself, the RBNZ’s “least worst choices” policy seemed to imply that although external risks remained, the domestic economy was strong and could tolerate tighter monetary conditions. Mr Orr seemed to be saying much the same, suggesting that terminal rates could go above 3.0% and would get there sooner, rather than later. We’ll see just how strong the New Zealand economy is in due course, but a hawkish RBNZ has seen the New Zealand dollar rally by 0.70% to 0.6505 today, making it the biggest currency gainer in Asia today.
Elsewhere, Singapore’s GDP growth came in tight on expectations, rising by 3.70% YoY for Q1. With inflation data yesterday also less worse than expected, expectations for another unscheduled tightening by the Monetary Authority of Singapore have receded for now. That may bring some relief to the Malaysian ringgit, which has fallen to 3.20 against the Singapore dollar.
In Malaysia itself, Inflation data for April continues to remain benign as domestic demand stays subdued. Inflation YoY rose by just 2.30% and will leave Bank Negara, like Bank Indonesia yesterday, in no hurry to tighten monetary policy. Ominously though, the Malaysian ringgit has shown no strength versus the US dollar. USD/MYR remains at recent highs at 4.4000 even as the greenback is experiencing an extended bull market correction versus the G-10 and EMFX elsewhere. If the US dollar turns higher once again, and the MYR resumes its sell-off, Bank Negara’s hand might be forced.
Overnight, the recession word weighed on stock markets once again. European PMI data was a mixed bag. Manufacturing PMIs held steady, while Services PMIs fell as consumer demand takes a hit from the rise in the cost of living. That wasn’t enough to stop the euro rally, powered by suddenly hawkish ECB heavyweights.
The picture was rather grimmer in the United Kingdom where the most honest central bank in the world, the Bank of England, has already signalled a white flag on bringing down inflation and pencilled in a recession next year. UK Manufacturing PMI held steady at 54.6, but Services PMIs plummeted to 51.8. The UK is facing a winter of discontent as the cost of living soars, with the railways RMT union voting to strike over pay negotiations. Expect more of this going forward. Additionally, the Chancellor is apparently preparing to widen the scope of the windfall tax on energy companies, probably to help pay for his cost of living mini-budget. UK stock markets didn’t like that. Finally, the “party gate” report on those lockdown wine frenzies in the No 10 garden is due for release today, potentially putting more pressure on PM Johnson’s leadership. Little surprise that the sterling slumped versus the euro and the US dollar overnight.
In the United States, the recession world hit particularly hard after the Snap Inc. induced meltdown by Nasdaq stocks overnight. US New Home Sales plummeted to 591,000 in April, while Richmond Fed Manufacturing slumped to -9 in May. The S&P Global Services Flash PMI for May fell to 53.5, with Flash Manufacturing easing to 57.5. It was the new home sales that really frightened the street, though, as house building, and its ancillary services and suppliers are a good chunk of US domestic GDP. Soaring mortgage interest rates and petrol prices appear to be doing a lot of the Fed’s work for it before it even gets started.
If there is one takeout from all of this for me, it is that rising inflation and borrowing rates are already crimping the demand side of the equation. Unfortunately, we are seeing very little sign of price pressures reducing due to a combination of factors, all of which have been thrashed to death here and in research everywhere. The uncomfortable reality is that central banks are going to be forced to continue the tightening path, even as growth slows around the world, because inflation has proven sticky and not transitory. That is the least worst choice central banks need to make in a stagflationary environment. I am asked every day if we have seen the low in the equity market sell-off. Hopefully, I have answered the question.
Finally, US President Joe Biden’s trip around Asia continues. Unfortunately, with its emphasis on containing China and hawking a trade agreement empty of potential access to the US domestic market (Congress needs to approve that), the trip is not going to make much headway in re-establishing US leadership in the region. Asia really needs to see the colour of America’s money. Furthermore, the reliability of the US as a partner has taken a further hit today, with White House officials explicitly refusing to rule out the possibility that the US could enact crude oil export restrictions to help cap energy prices domestically. The US doesn’t have a crude oil problem, it has a refining and transportation problem, but let’s not let facts get in the way.
I have warned about food nationalism previously, but if President Biden prioritises November’s mid-term elections over the economic war with Russia, and supporting Europe, it really is every man for himself globally. I can’t see that being positive for equities anywhere, or European asset markets full stop, or for Ukraine. Only the Kremlin is likely to be popping champagne as the US does Russia’s divide and conquer for them.
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