Posts tagged ECB
Anticipation is everything

It’s difficult to get past the obvious at the moment. Markets have made their bet on further monetary easing, and they’re now waiting for central banks to deliver. Policymakers have been showering markets with promises to “act if needed,” and assurances from those stuck at the zero bound that the toolbox is far from empty. But they haven’t done anything yet, though this is a position that will be closely examined this week. Mr. Draghi will be at the spotlight first today when he delivers his introductory statement at the ECB forum in Sintra. The nebulous 5y/5y forward inflation gauge has crashed to new lows recently, and it seems to me that the consensus now expects a signal from Mr. Draghi that the ECB will cut its deposit rate, or re-start QE, as soon as September, which incidentally will be Mr. Draghi’s last meeting as ECB president. Meanwhile at the Fed, the only question seems to be whether The FOMC cuts by 25 or 50 basis points in the next few months, setting the stage for an interesting June meeting this week. To the extent that markets have priced-in monetary easing in response to the deteriorating trade negotiations between the U.S. and China, it would make the most sense to assume that the much anticipated Osaka sit-down between Mr. Trump and Xi—at the end of June—to be a catalyst for something in markets.

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Circular Reasoning

It’s easy to trip over trying to formulate a market narrative at the moment. One interpretation of the dramatic decline in global bond yields is that the smart money is de-risking their portfolios ahead of global slowdown and a rout in equities and credit. The ramp-up in the global trade wars, and still-soggy economic data seem to confirm this version of the narrative, but it is also a somewhat naive story. The global economy is not in perfect shape, but it is hardly on the brink of a recession, especially not since it is usually coordinated tightening by central banks that push the major economies over the edge in the first place. The market is now pricing-in one-to-two rate cuts by the Fed this year, and three in 2020. The money market curve in the Eurozone is even starting to price in the idea that the ECB will further scythe its deposit rate below -0.4%. The argument in the U.S. is particularly delicious. Last year, the consensus was angling for a recession in 2020 based on the idea that the Fed was in search for a “neutral” FF rate at about 3%. Now that the Fed has thrown in the towel, the idea is that it will cut rates to prevent the recession that it itself was supposed to have sown the seeds for in the first place, by hiking interest rates.

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Doves on Parade

My main job on these pages is to  distil the market Narrative™ for my readers, and recent events have made this week’s missive a layup. The debate on whether to fire, and how to arm, the fiscal bazooka has continued, and now monetary policymakers have joined the party. For a while, it seemed as if the world’s biggest central banks were sleepwalking into coordinated tightening, or in the case of the PBoC, failing altogether in the attempt to counter a sustained cyclical slowdown. To the extent that the Q4 chaos in equities was investors’ vote on this strategy, they should consider their message received. In Japan, signs of wage growth briefly alerted markets to the prospect that the JGB market would be un-frozen by further loosening of the yield-curve-control. But the truth is that Kuroda-san is stuck. With global headline inflation pressures now easing, manufacturing and exports struggling, and the looming consumption tax, the BOJ isn’t going anywhere fast; zero rates and (modest) balance sheet expansion will continue as far as the eye can see.  In Frankfurt, the ECB recently downgraded its assessment of the economy—the convoluted shift from “broadly balanced” to “downside” risks—and expectations are building that the TLTROs will be extended, or even renewed and expanded.

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Sweet Irony

You will find no harsher critique of Mr. Trump’s indiscriminate use of social media than yours truly. If it were up to me, the president’s phone would have been deactivated a long time ago. Last week’s performance on economics, however, struck at the heart of a story economists and strategists have been circling for a long time. How far will monetary policy divergence be stretched in this cycle? Mr. Trump first suggested that other major economies—Europe and Asia—are unfairly manipulating their interest rates and currencies, before following up with a swing at Fed for making things worse by hiking rates. In short; the White House is suddenly spooked by the risk to the economy from a stronger dollar and higher rates. This is probably a reasonable political worry ahead of the mid-terms, but it is also sweet irony. If Mr. Trump wants to complain to anyone about the vigour of the dollar, he should start with a look in the mirror.  Aggressive tax and short-term inflationary tariffs in an economy with a near record-low unemployment and savings rate could only have one outcome in the end. A more assertive Fed and a stronger dollar always were obvious side-effects of such a policy constellation. 

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