Asian markets are mostly positive this morning as Shanghai announced a raft of stimulus measures and both Shanghai and Beijing eased Covid-19 restrictions. The devil is in the detail of course, and workers in both cities still face challenges either going to work, or even being allowed to leave the house. Nor has the reality that the virus only has to get lucky once, prompting the reimposition of tightened covid-zero restrictions, in the minds of investors. Such minutiae are usually ignored by markets when it doesn’t suit the preferred narrative, and so it is today. Asia is pricing in peak virus in China and a recovery in growth.
Another tailwind was the strong performance by Wall Street on Friday, which closed out a banner week prompting the usual “maybe this is the bottom” response from the financial press and FOMO investors. That was assisted by US data on Friday. Personal Income and Expenditure for April were still robust, but eased from March’s numbers, and Michigan Consumer Sentiment retreated from 65.2 in April to a still-healthy 58.4 for May. Lower data equalling reduced need for Fed tightening equals buy everything. Simple really. Although I must say, I’m struggling to see how a slowing US economy is good for equities, I don’t want to spoil the party though.
Another negative headwind being completely ignored by markets is oil prices. Brent crude has edged above USD 120.00 a barrel this morning as the European Union continues its efforts to get Hungary on board for a proposed EU ban on Russian crude imports. The underlying driver though is the massive squeeze on refined products we are seeing around the world, which is lifting the base ingredient for all that diesel and petrol that has got very expensive. The world would have been flapping and wringing its hands about the end of days if we had said Brent crude was above USD 120.00 a barrel a month or two or three or four ago; now it is being ignored. By the way, if China recovers, oil prices will as well; just saying.
Also being ignored by markets completely in Non-Farm Payroll week is that the Federal Reserve also starts quantitative tightening this week. The Fed will start to sell USD 47.50 billion of bonds and MBS’ per month, scaling up to USD 95 billion per month by September. Meanwhile, the ECB is still quantitatively easing while talking about hiking rates to errrr, zero per cent. And there is a war in Eastern Europe. Long EUR/USD above 1.0800 anybody?
Despite being less than impressed with either the Fed’s guidance or overall performance over the past year or so, at least they’re not the Reserve Bank of New Zealand. I find it highly unlikely they will abruptly swing to less a hawkish stance between now and September, meaning three more 0.50% hikes into September and fewer jokes being made about their credibility. Additionally, the USD 8.5 trillion balance sheet needs to reduce is carb and saturated fat intake, so quantitative tightening it is. From my position as a pilot fish cleaning the teeth of the capital markets sharp on the periphery, none of this is being priced in, although I acknowledge that markets can remain irrational, longer than you can stay solvent.
Now that I have fulfilled my role as the voice of reason on a Monday, it is time to have a look at what the week ahead brings. Asia’s calendar is dead today with the week’s highlights being China’s Official and Caixin PMIs coming out tomorrow and Wednesday. Wednesday and Thursday also see a swath of manufacturing and services PMIs from the rest of Asia, while Australia releases its April Trade Balance on Thursday. China’s data will have a very binary impact this week if peak-covid is here. Soft data will likely ramp up fears of a slowdown, with a decent showing likely to see hot money flowing in looking for the bottom. Soft data from the rest of Asia will raise fears of spreading China contagion. Watch also for Indonesian Inflation on Wednesday. A high print will increase the pressure on Bank Indonesia to finally hike this month.
Holidays will play their part this week. US markets are closed for Memorial Day today, although electronic trading is open in Asia. Indonesia is closed Wednesday while mainland China and Hong Kong and Taiwan are closed on Friday for the International Dragon Boat Festival. Thursday and Friday see United Kingdom markets closed for a bank holiday and Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee. Activity in Asia will likely be muted from Thursday.
Today features German May Inflation with Eurozone, French and Italian Inflation tomorrow. High prints will likely increase the hiking noise around the ECB and could extend the euro’s recent gains. The ECB should probably stop quantitatively easing first though. Eurozone and US Manufacturing PMIs are released on Wednesday, along with US ADPO Employment that forecasters will pointlessly use to extrapolate Friday’s data. We also have a Bank of Canada policy decision which should feature a 0.50% hike.
Finally, on Friday, we will see May’s US Non-Farm Payrolls data. Market expectations are a moving target this week, but as of today, markets are expecting a fall from 428,000 in April to a still robust 320,000 for May. Trading the data in the hour after its release has always been a sure-fire way to lose money. But if pushed, I would say a lower number will have the market pricing in less Fed tightening, while a higher number might dish out a cold dose of reality to the bottom-fishers in equity, bond, and currency markets ahead of the mid-month FOMC meeting.
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