One of the more pleasing aspects of being aboard a slow boat into the rainforests of Borneo these past few days was the complete loss of mobile telephony signals. The temptation to look at emails, chats, social media, or news from the markets was compulsorily removed, thanks to the national park being bigger than all of Bali.
I certainly haven’t missed much in my short absence. Yes, volatility remains elevated across every asset class to be sure, although a US holiday overnight meant a 12-hour break from the noise (New Yorkers don’t do 8-hour days, lunch is for wimps). What is clear is that the strategy of watching the rooster fight from the sidelines instead of getting involved remains the sensible one.
Financial markets looking for direction
The financial markets continue to tie themselves in knots so complicated, that they would give even the saltiest mariner a headache, as they try to price in a recession/no recession and its impact on asset prices. Nobody is saying it, but really, it is a cover for looking for an excuse to pick the low in the stock market, which is struggling still to cope with the transition back to the real world after being back-stopped by the world’s central banks for the past 20 years.
Other asset classes are trying to price in a recession as well. US 10-year yields are now back to near 3.0% and I must say I got this one completely wrong, I thought it would be nearing 4.0% by now. That said, the US yield curve from 2-year to 30-year continues to flatten dramatically, with only a 24 bps difference as of Friday. We seem to be on the way to an inversion sooner than later, signalling a recession. Not much of a reason to bottom-fish equities I’d have thought.
Oil fell by over 5.0% on Friday for much the same reason, but frankly, with Russian sanctions and OPEC’s production targets merely a fantasy on paper, we’re going to have to see things get a lot worse in the world economy to see Brent crude under USD 100 a barrel. That ties in nicely with my outlook that inflation may be nearing a peak, but the risk is that it stays elevated for longer than the market is pricing, even if it peaks in the US. Don’t consign stagflation to the cupboard just yet. Elsewhere inflation in the world is still on its way up, as evidenced by European data last week and yesterday’s Indonesian inflation numbers.
The crypto space is also in the Accident and Emergency department still, waiting to be seen by a doctor. Bitcoin flirted with USD 18,000.00 while I was away but held the crucial USD 17,500.00 region. The dead cat bounce to USD 20,000.00 isn’t inspiring confidence with another crypto lender halting withdrawals, deposits, and trading on its platform yesterday. This one, I believe, was conjuring up to 40% potential returns through the magic of Defi. Cryptos have proven to be neither a hedge for deflation, stagflation, or inflation; even gold has done a better job and that’s saying something. Nor have they usurped the US dollar or other fiat currencies. All I can say about the crypto space is a saying I heard before the global financial crisis and used a lot during it when a bank CEO would proclaim “we have plenty of capital.” That is “there is never just one cockroach.”
Perhaps the biggest surprise is that despite US yields tanking last week on recession fears, USD/JPY remains near 136.00. That is becoming a dangerous trade in my opinion, especially if US 10 years fall below 3.0%. Still, the US dollar remains firm across the board, with the modest recovery in risk sentiment recently not translating into material strength in Asia currencies or major currencies versus the greenback. In fact, looking at the likes of the euro, yen, Aussie or won, you might argue the opposite. The price action in the currency markets is perhaps a less-than-subtle warning to temper those bullish animal spirits in other asset classes.
That said, it looks like the bottom-fishers of the equity, bond and crypto-space may hold the reins in the first part of the week. US Treasury Yellen and China Vice-Premier Liu held a construction phone call this morning and the market is alive with speculation that US President Biden will cut tariffs on a swath of Chinese goods this week to lower inflation. Following on from an impressive recovery by US manufacturing PMIs last week, China’s Caixin Services PMI leapt massively to 54.5 this morning for June, a giant recovery from May’s 41.4.
Japan’s Jibun Bank Services PMI for June also rose to 54.0 from 52.3 in May. Both China and Japan are emerging from varying degrees of virus restrictions, but the strength of China’s PMI recovery is a surprise. Whether it can last is another matter and once again I’ll focus on China once again and beat the drum of warning. China’s covid-zero policy is NOT one and done and President Xi said as much last week. Already, a flare-up of virus cases elsewhere has led to some restrictions being reimposed. Readers should be under no illusion that flare-ups in Beijing and Shanghai will not lead to a reimposition of movement restrictions. Tread carefully on bottom-fishing in China asset markets. And I have even mentioned the still ongoing implosion in the private property developer sector there.
Elsewhere in Asia, inflation warning signs continue to make some noise. Having started the post-covid recovery later than the United States and Europe, Asia is starting to see the inflation pass-through happening. South Korean Inflation YoY for June rose to 6.0% today from 5.40% in May; you can lock and load a Bank of Korea rate hike at the next meeting, it’s just by how much. Philippine Inflation YoY for June has risen to 6.10% from 5.90% in May as well. On Friday, Indonesian inflation jumped to 4.40%, led by food inflation. An ominous development for a country of 270 million, mostly poor citizens. Although core inflation remained benign, two of the most reluctant rate hikers, the Philippines and Indonesia, are going to be forced to act, or see pressure mounting on their currencies, causing a negative feedback loop of involuntary tightening via a lower currency. Likewise, India may need to accelerate hikes while soaring energy prices torpedoed the current account yesterday, which slumped to USD-25.64 billion. And that’s with cheap Russian oil. This might partially explain why lower US yields are producing no peace dividend for Asian currencies against the US dollar.
Another central bank facing the music in a couple of hours is the Reserve Bank of Australia. Home Loan and Building Permits soared yesterday, as did ANZ Job Advertisements. S&P Global Services PMI for June edged only slightly lower to 52.6, with the Composite PMI also printing at 52.6 from 52.9 last month. The lucky country remains far too lucky it seems, and despite a 50bps hike last month, the battlers aren’t going down without a fight. Another 50bps is priced in for the RBA today, and if they stay on the fence and do just 25bps, the Australian dollar is going to have a very bad day. It will probably only book modest gains anyway with 50bps unless the RBA statement is very hawkish. There is an outside chance the RBA could look at the data and go 75bps and surprise markets, I’m not betting my remaining hair on it though.
Although I said the stock market bulls may have the momentum in the first half of the week, the first challenge to that will loom in the dark hours of tomorrow evening Singapore time. Wednesday sees the release of May JOLTs Job-Opening data, expected to still be just above 11.0 million jobs. JOLTs Job Quits should come in around 4.4 million. That is hardly consistent with a US economy on the verge of a recession although some may argue that May is now history. Junes ISM Non-Manufacturing PMI, Activity, Employment, New Orders and Non-Manufacturing sub-indexes might take the heat out of a high JOLTs number unless they surprise to the upside.
Later that evening, the FOMC Minutes are due to be released, although I would be surprised if the committee is blinking on its inflation fight yet. That would create an intolerable credibility gap that already has a few holes below the waterline after the past 12 months. Before we know it, Friday is here and another US Non-Farm Payrolls release for June. Time flies when you’re getting whipsawed every day. Jobs are expected to fall from last month’s monster 390,000 print to a still-healthy 270,000. Maybe there is some risk of downward back-month revisions, but that forecast is still not consistent with a US economy on the verge of a big slump. The scope for bond market volatility is high and “peak-Fed” has to be revised higher again. The US dollar will lap it up like a cat with a plate of high-fat milk, but equity markets are unlikely to feel the same love.
It looks like another week to be patient and observe from the sidelines. Otherwise, strap in everybody, and keep practising those complicating sailing knots, they will be used this week.
This article is for general information purposes only. It is not investment advice or a solution to buy or sell securities. Opinions are the authors; not necessarily that of OANDA Corporation or any of its affiliates, subsidiaries, officers or directors. Leveraged trading is high risk and not suitable for all. You could lose all of your deposited funds.