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Shooting First, Asking Questions Later

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By Jeffrey Halley, Senior Market Analyst, Asia Pacific, OANDA

That was pretty much the response of both national governments and financial markets on Friday as fears over the new Omicron Covid-19 variant swept the world. Travel restrictions from Southern Africa have been quickly erected with Israel shutting borders full stop. In financial markets, US bond yields sank as investors rushed for safety (bond prices move inversely to yields), oil prices collapsed by over 9.0%, stock markets headed south with commodity prices and haven currencies such as the Swiss Franc and Japanese Yen has banner days as markets priced in a return to wider movement restrictions.

Having been burnt so badly with their own complacency over the emergence of the delta variant, national governments were taking no chances this time around. Interestingly, both gold and bitcoin flopped as well, and it seems neither is a haven or an inflation hedge when the flag really goes up. Looking at the performance of the platinum group metals on Friday, I am not really surprised that gold sank. But I also suspect that quite a bit of cross margin liquidation accounted for the sell-down in gold and cryptos.

As the week starts a new, it is a very mixed performance in Asia today. Over the weekend, the WHO said that omicron’s symptoms appear to be mild, and the head of Moderna said a newly rejigged version of their vaccine could be available by early 2022. That seems to have been enough to flush out the perpetual optimists of the US stock market, with US index futures strongly rallying this morning. Oil has leapt 4.0% higher as well, recouping nearly half of Friday’s losses. US 10-year T-note futures fell by over 1.0% on Friday (percentage of the price, not headline yield), but have fallen 0.35% this morning, meaning US 10-year yields have edged back up, and the US Dollar, having crumpled on Friday, perhaps the day’s biggest surprise, is stronger across the board.

If US-dominated markets are attracting the buy-the-dippers like flies to a fresh pile of dung, the picture is rather more cautious in early Asian markets. Australia, Japan, and South Korean stock markets are all lower, and sentiment barometers, the Australian and New Zealand Dollars have hardly moved. Gold spiked lower to $1770.00 an ounce when the margin servers went on at 0700 Tokyo, but quickly bounced back to be unchanged at $1793.00 an ounce. Some poor soul has been stopped out in the Monday twilight zone.

Asia’s caution is understandable. Memories are still raw in the region of the delta wave earlier this year, including the author. Asia has a much higher beta to world trade and the global recovery than the US where the majority of GDP is internally generated. Having moved heaven and earth over the past six months to get vaccination rates across the region to impressive levels, the prospect of them being rendered useless and trade suffering is understandably weighing on sentiment. The first move in early Asia on Monday is often the wrong one. If that plays true today, the early optimism shown in the most illiquid time of the week for global markets, could evaporate as the day goes on. It is hard to see Europe for example, already facing another Covid-19 wave and more restrictions, suddenly finding light at the end of the virus tunnel.

The fact is, we don’t know enough about this new variant yet to make a conclusive call on whether this is delta 2.0, or a more benign version. That uncertainly alone should cap optimism but-the-dip waves this week, although the annoying use of “mutant virus” or “mutant strain” has reappeared in the global press as if we were facing the zombie apocalypse. That won’t calm nerves but even as a non-scientist I can tell you that every time a virus mutates it becomes a mutated strain, not a “mutant strain” leading the world to doom. Flu evolves every year in multiple strains (hence we need a flu shot every year), but its not a “mutant flu.” So, stop scaring people to sell column inches. That said, viruses don’t mutate to become worse at what they do, and if this version is subsuming delta, itself a nasty beast, caution is warranted.

Viruses aside, the world does move on and although omicron will capture the hearts and imaginations and column inches of the world and the financial market this week, there is other stuff happening. China releases official PMIs tomorrow and Caixin Manufacturing PMI on Wednesday, and Services PMI on Friday. Wednesday the 1st also sees the usual dump of PMIs for the rest of Asia and Europe, which also sees Eurozone Inflation and pan-Europe Retail Sales on Friday. South Korean Industrial Production and Retail Sale will generate some attention, as will Australian Retail Sales and Balance of Trade.

Believe it or not, this week is also a US Non-Farm Payroll week, usually the one ring to rule them all. The street is pricing in another 500K+ jump in jobs although its impact is totally reliant on the evolution of the omicron situation. If that has faded and payrolls are strong, we will be back to the Fed taper-trade. If it hasn’t, then it will be ignored no matter what the headline number is, as the street prices in central banks everywhere, including the Fed, breaking the glass, and hitting the big red “WIMP” button.

Speaking of central bankers, we have a plethora of them speaking tonight in the early hours before Asia. The ECB’s Christine Lagarde and the Federal Reserve’s Jerome Powell and the Reserve Bank of Australia’s Debelle all speak. We have a rent-a-crowd of Fed Governors, Clarida, Williams and Bowman also making speeches. We already know what the only question will be to all of them. Expect to hear lots of x central bank stands ready if needed, we have lots of tools available, monetary policy remains flexible, insert we’ll loosen policy at the first sign of trouble comment without specifically saying it here. That might be good for stocks, commodities, and bonds if you are brave.

A mixed start for Asian stock markets.

US futures markets and Asian stock markets have diverged sharply today, with US index futures rallying after the bonfire of Friday, while Asian markets have moved sharply lower once again early in the session. Part of Asia’s negatively could be a partial catch-up to the scale of the US and European rout, but also their slower pandemic recovery, the scars of delta, and a much higher beta to world trade and the global recovery.

Meanwhile, US index futures raced higher out of the gate this morning and have continued higher, likely grasping at the straw of reports that omicron’s symptoms are milder. S&P 500 futures are 1.10% higher, with Nasdaq futures jumping 1.40%, while Dow Jones futures have risen by 0.75%.

The halo effect of the US futures is starting to reverse the early losses suffered in Asian markets. The Nikkei 225 have reversed its entire early falls to be unchanged, with South Korea’s Kospi is down only 0.40%. Taipei has also recovered, down only 0.30% now. However, Singapore remains 0.90% lower, with Kuala Lumpur 0.25% and Jakarta 0.68% lower. Tourism-centric Bangkok will likely endure a tough start to the day. Australian markets have staged a sharp about-face this morning after a very negative start, both the ASX 200 and All Ordinaries rallying back to be down just 0.10% for the session.

China markets are mixed with casino stocks in Hong Kong sharply lower as China’s clampdowns extend to that sector. Technology stocks have rallied strongly though leaving the Hang Seng down just 0.20%. In Mainland China, the Shanghai Composite is down 0.30% with the CSI 300 easing by 0.25%.

Given the price action seen in Asia today, led by the US futures rally, European stocks are poised to jump higher this afternoon if the US futures rally is sustained. Having been stretchered off with serious injuries on Friday, as Europe faced a double whammy of omicron and its 4th virus wave, European markets, theoretically, have the most to gain if the price action in oil this morning, for example, is anything to go by.

I would add a large note of caution however for equities in general. Despite the irresistible pull of buying-the-dip on tenuous early information on omicron, we have just one negative omicron headline away from going back to where we started. Expect plenty of headline-driven whipsaw price action this week.

The US Dollar stages a post-Friday recovery.

In a rather surprising move for the author, the US Dollar suffered heavily on Friday, the dollar index falling by 0.74% to 96.07 as haven currencies like the Swiss Franc and Japanese Yen staged powerful rallies. EUR/USD rallied as well, perhaps because so much bad news was priced into it, climbing 0.90% to 1.1310. The US Dollar suffered I believe, on cross margining selling, and that an omicron wave would bring the Fed’s taper to a shuddering halt, something with which I agree with, as US yields fell sharply at the long end of the curve.

This morning, the rally in US equity futures and oil has lessened those fears, with US yields also firming. That has seen the dollar index rally by 0.22% to 96.28, with the JPY, CHF and EUR falling by around 0.25%. USD/JPY fell by an impressive 1.70% to 113.40 on Friday, testing 113.00 intraday. From a technical perspective, USD/JPY should start to form a bottom around 113.50 and EUR/USD will likely struggle to make much progress above 1.1300 unless US bond yields dramatically fall from here.

Currency markets are also sending out a few subtle signs that risk sentiment remains highly elevated, with Asian currencies falling aggressively on Friday, but making back only very modest gains today. Notably, USD/KRW is unchanged at 1193.50 today, and USD/CNY is barely changed at 6.3860. USD/THB, meanwhile, has actually risen 0.70% to 33.740 and USD/MYR is unchanged at 4.2380. Another warning sign comes from USD/TRY which is also unchanged, although the Mexican Peso and South African Rand, cremated on Friday, have risen 1.0% on thin volumes. The Australian and New Zealand Dollars fell 1.0% to test 2021 lows at 0.7100 and 0.6800 on Friday, but the sentiment indicators have only recovered by 0.25% this morning.

So, in the EM and commodity space, currency markets are adopting a much more cautious tone, suggesting the overall market remains very much on edge. Like equities, a negative omicron headline or two is likely to see the sell-off resume in earnest, which should benefit the Yen and Franc once again. Markets will be very much set up for a binary outcome this week based on omicron headlines, subsuming even the US Non-Farm Payrolls results. Positive news, buy everything, sell havens. Negative news, sell everything, buy havens, watch the whipsaw, and rinse repeat. Volatility will be the winner.

Oil stages an impressive recovery after Friday’s bonfire.

Oil will be the market where short volatility traders go to die this week. The omicron whipsaw is on full display today as Brent and WTI, having fallen by over 9.0% on Friday, have staged a very sharp rally in Asia. Brent crude has risen by 4.78% to $76.35 a barrel, and WTI has rallied by a mighty 5.45% to $71.85 a barrel, thanks to some tenuous reports that omicron’s symptoms are mild. Time will tell if this is correct (and I hope it is), but financial markets aren’t waiting around to find out.

The picture for oil is further muddied by the OPEC+ JMMC meeting and full meeting this week, the latter occurring on Friday. Negotiations with Iran restart in Vienna today as well over their nuclear programme. The prospect of Iranian crude increasing on international markets, another potential volatility point. Add all that in with virus developments and whipsaw price action this week in oil, is more likely to be chainsaw action.

OPEC+ compliance has held steady above 100% for quite some time now, suggesting there is not much swing production available to open the pumps anyway. I also note that pre-omicron, US production had recovered to 11.5 million bpd, yet prices were still high. That would suggest OPEC+ would have been comfortable raising production targets as planned, even if they couldn’t actually pump it.

However, OPEC+ has also repeatedly noted that a resurgent virus is one reason why they have been cautious about lifting production. OPEC+ has also forecast markets moving to a global daily surplus in early 2022. Taken with increasing US production, SPR releases, and now a potential omicron roadblock to the global recovery, OPEC+ probably has all the excuses it needs to hit the pause button on increasing production in December and awaiting further virus clarity. Friday’s capitulation will have cemented that thinking.

Either way you cut it, I can’t help but feel that Friday’s lows were probably the bargain of the year if you were an oil buyer, speculative or physical. Technical indicators are pretty useless in markets like this, but I note that the RSIs on both contracts are close to oversold, and that both Brent crude its 200-day moving average (DMA) on Friday at $72.70, while WTI has regained its 200-DMA at $70.00 a barrel this morning.

Gold, the forgotten haven.

Friday should have been gold’s safe-haven day in the sun, and for a short time it wise, rising $23.0 an ounce to $1815.50 at one stage. However, but the sessions end, gold had slumped back to a $1793.00 close, a minuscule gain. Like bitcoin, gold suffered over the course of Friday even as US yields and the greenback sank. One reason is likely the very poor performance of platinum and palladium on Friday, the other is likely to be cross-margining stop-outs with investors liquidating gold positions to cover losses in equities for instance.

A general recovery by platinum group metals, industrial metals and cryptos today has failed to flow into gold strength, perhaps because US yields and the US Dollar are higher. Whatever the underlying dynamics, the price action is negative, gold rising just 0.10% to $1794.80 this morning, with the recovery rally leaving it behind. That suggests that the downside is the path of least resistance for gold, and it is a sell on rallies this week.

Gold will have resistance at $1800.00 and $1815.00 to start the week, with the post open spike to $1770.00 an ounce this morning, a dubious move even by Monday Asia futures open standards, will provide initial support. In between, gold may find some friends around $1780.00. Failure of $1770.00 signals a retest of $1760.00 and $1740.00 an ounce.

Bitcoin

The weekend worries unwound all of bitcoin’s 7.0% loss on Friday, as the power of buy-the-dip dangles an irresistible lure. Bitcoin is trading $57.330.00 in Asia, barely changed from the weekend session and has quite a solid line of resistance just above here at around $58,500.00 of fiat US currency. A rise through $58,500.00 signals a return to 60,000.00 in the first instance.

Bitcoin has successfully held its 100-DMA, today at $54,210.00 for three sessions in a row. My bearish radar won’t shout target acquired until we see a daily close well below that level. But if we do, a move below $50,000.00 is possible.

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Markets Today – Earnings, Nasdaq, ECB, CBRT, Oil, Gold, Bitcoin

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By Craig Erlam, Senior Market Analyst, UK & EMEA, OANDA

It’s turned into a mixed session across Europe with indices giving up earlier gains initially before reversing course once more to tread water as we near the open on Wall Street.

It appeared we could have been heading for a second consecutive positive session when Europe got things underway this morning, something we haven’t been treated to much so far this year. But it wasn’t long until we were back in the red; a further sign of the angst in the markets right now that is proving hard to shake off. Perhaps there’s still hope yet but given what we’ve seen, it won’t be cause for optimism.

The Nasdaq dropping into correction territory won’t be helping lift the mood, and that will turn more downbeat again if it breaks below the 200-day simple moving average for the first time since April 2020 when the unbelievable tech rally started. It would also take it below 15,000 for the first time since the middle of October. Not a great signal for the markets just as Netflix kicks off earnings season for big tech.

The flipside of that is that earnings could be what helps tech find some form again. There’ll no doubt be some interest around these levels and we’re already seeing futures pointing more than half a percentage point higher ahead of the open. A strong report from Netflix could see dip buyers flood back in.

The key question on investors’ minds though will be whether the tech rout is already behind us after a 10% drop. That will depend on more than just a few stellar earnings reports. The key thing will be whether we see a pause in market interest rate expectations after weeks of aggressively pricing in more hikes and balance sheet reduction.

While there are calls for more than four hikes this year, even a kickstart 50 basis point increase from the Fed in March for the first time in more than 20 years, is that going to be priced in this early? Or could we see a period of relief that could benefit stock markets if earnings season takes a turn for the better? We’ll soon see as big tech dominates the next week on the earnings calendar.

ECB remains in camp transitory

Christine Lagarde launched a strong defence of the ECB’s response to higher inflation on Thursday, warning that markets should not expect a similar approach to that taken by the Fed as the situation doesn’t warrant it. Lagarde pointed to lower inflation, which was confirmed today at 5% in December, and a weaker recovery. While that may be true, markets have been pricing in the possibility of a similar u-turn to that we’ve seen in the US and UK, with a 10 basis point increase expected in October.

The minutes reflected Lagarde’s comments, as we would expect, but that’s unlikely to change investors’ minds. Central banks have repeatedly pushed back against market expectations over the last six months before eventually aligning with them. With the German 10-year moving into positive territory for the first time since mid-2019 on Wednesday, it seems a familiar pattern may be unfolding.

New year, new CBRT?

The CBRT appears to be turning over a new leaf in 2022 after resisting the urge to cut interest rates for a fifth consecutive meeting. The central bank has cut rates from 19% to 14% in that time which has come at great expense in terms of the currency, reserves, and inflation. But it would appear that the easing cycle has run its course, for now.

That said, the explanation for current levels of high inflation and the disregard for it, and in effect its impact on households and businesses, don’t offer much assurance that the CBRT won’t at some point revert back to the damaging approach of recent months. But it may wait until inflation does ease again after reaching 36% last month.

Oil rally finally losing momentum

Oil has been on a remarkable run in recent weeks driven by very bullish fundamentals as disrupted supply struggled to keep up with strong demand. OPEC and the IEA have referenced the resilience of demand since the emergence of omicron in recent weeks and the inability of OPEC+ to hit their production targets, or even come close, has led to the kind of one way price action we’ve been witnessing.

While the fundamentals haven’t changed, it does appear that we’re finally starting to see momentum wane after a more than 30% rally from the omicron lows. That’s coming around $90 where oil has peaked at a seven-year high, seemingly triggering some profit-taking. While I don’t think it’s done there, we could see a minor correction to take some of the frothiness out of the market. That said, I can’t imagine it will be too large unless we see a shift, either in OPEC+ production or slowing demand from a major consumer like China as a result of its zero-Covid policy.

Gold breaks key resistance

Gold has been pushing for a breakout above $1,833 since the start of the year and it finally achieved it on Wednesday, which could potentially help propel it higher in the coming weeks. The move has been building despite yields rising, which may be a sign that traders don’t believe enough is being priced in to counter soaring inflation.

The yellow metal has recovered earlier losses to trade higher today, just as the dollar has lost earlier gains to trade flat. It started to struggle a little shy of $1,850 which may be the next area of resistance, with the November highs around $1,875 above here being the next test. A move lower will see $1,833 tested as support after putting up such a barrier of resistance in recent months.

A big move coming in bitcoin?

Bitcoin remains in consolidation on Thursday, with ranges tighening as the cryptocurrency struggles for any direction. It doesn’t feel like we’ll have to wait long for an aggressive breakout one way or another but at this point, it’s hard to say in which direction that will come. If interest rates are its kryptonite then it could still be in for a rough ride as anxiety around monetary tightening remains heightened. But I’m not convinced that will remain the case and it may just be a case of the cryptocurrency biding its time. I’m sure we’ll soon see which way that will come but once it breaks out of that tight range, the move could be quite substantial.

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Markets Today – Mild Reprieve, UK Inflation, BoE, Oil, Gold, Bitcoin

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By Craig Erlam, Senior Market Analyst, UK & EMEA, OANDA

Equity markets are recovering some of yesterday’s losses but anxiety and uncertainty continue to dominate after a disappointing start to earnings season.

Inflation and interest rate concerns are going nowhere soon and with traders now increasingly considering the possibility of hikes larger than 25 basis points, the possibility of more pain in stock markets is very real.

The idea that we could go from rock bottom rates and enormous bond-buying to rapid tapering, 50 basis point hikes, and earlier balance sheet reduction is quite alarming. We’re talking about markets that have become very accustomed to extensive support from central banks and very gentle unwinding when appropriate. This is quite a shock to the system.

And so far earnings season is not providing investors the comfort they were hoping for. Significant compensation increases and lower trading revenues hurt JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs, and higher wage demands are likely to be a common theme throughout the next few weeks which will put a dampener on the bottom line and not alleviate concerns about persistent and widespread price pressures.

UK inflation jumps again ahead of Bailey appearance

The CPI data from the UK this morning compounded inflation concerns, hitting a 30-year high and once again surpassing expectations in the process. And it’s highly unlikely we’re seeing the peak, with that potentially coming around April when the cap on energy tariffs is lifted considerably to reflect higher wholesale prices. Other aspects will also contribute to higher levels of inflation at the start of the second quarter, at which point we may have a better idea of how fast it will then decline.

Of course, the Bank of England can’t just turn a blind eye until then. The MPC may be willing to overlook transitory inflationary pressures but the rise in CPI has proven to be neither temporary nor tolerable. Instead, it’s become more widespread and the central bank is being forced to act and may do so again next month after raising interest rates for the first time since the pandemic in December. A few more hikes after that are also priced in for this year but if pressures continue to mount, traders may begin to speculate about the possibility of larger hikes, as we’ve seen starting in the US.

All of this should make Andrew Bailey’s appearance before the Treasury Select Committee later today all the more interesting. The central bank has warned of higher inflation and possible interest rate hikes for months but delayed doing so after initial hints ahead of the November meeting. Given what’s happened since, the decision looks all the more strange. Of course, it’s easy to say that with 20/20 hindsight.

Oil gathering momentum as $100 oil looks increasingly likely

Oil prices are continuing to climb on Wednesday and find themselves only a little shy of $90 a barrel. This happened as IEA confirmed that the market looks tighter than previously anticipated as a result of stronger demand, despite omicron, and the inability of OPEC+ to hit its monthly increased production targets. This imbalance has led to surging prices which will further pressure households and businesses already fighting high inflation.

What’s more, not only does the rally not appear to be losing steam, it may have even generated fresh momentum. While $90 could have triggered some profit-taking and a minor cooling of prices, this suggests they’ll see no reprieve and we could realistically see $100 oil soon.

Can gold break higher as traders speculate about more rate hikes

Gold is marginally higher again after the easing over the course of the last week. The yellow metal is continuing to struggle around $1,833 which has been a surprisingly strong level of resistance over the last six months. But support is returning after it came close to $1,800 so a break to the upside remains a strong possibility.

Given the calls for even more rate hikes this year than markets are pricing in, not to mention larger individual increases than we’ve seen for many years, perhaps we are seeing some inflation hedging from traders that don’t think central banks are doing enough to bring price pressures down.

Consolidation continues

Bitcoin appears to have gotten lost in the noise of the last few weeks. It’s not falling too hard despite risk assets getting pummelled but it’s not recovering to any great extent either. Instead, it’s floating between support at $40,000 and resistance around $45,000 and showing no signs of breaking either at this point.

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Markets Today – Cautiously Higher, China, Oil, Gold, Bitcoin

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By Craig Erlam, Senior Market Analyst, UK & EMEA, OANDA

European stock markets moved cautiously higher on Monday as investors were tempted back in after a turbulent start to the year.

It’s been a relatively quiet start to the week, with the US bank holiday naturally weighing on activity. With that in mind, I don’t think we can read too much into today’s advances, especially as they’re occurring alongside rising yields which doesn’t seem particularly sustainable at a time of such anxiety in the markets.

It will be interesting to see if investors are tempted back in now that earnings season is underway. The emergence of omicron may mean that many companies don’t enjoy the kind of performance that was expected before but that doesn’t mean there won’t be plenty of positives to take away.

Of course, there are areas that will naturally chip away at that enthusiasm. Whether that’s margins being squeezed, prices increased or staffing costs, for example, there’ll be plenty for investors to get their heads around as they contend with sky-high valuations and a tricky economy this year.

PBOC cuts rates despite strong growth in 2021

A mixed bag of data overnight from China, where GDP growth exceeded expectations but retail sales fell short and the unemployment rate ticked higher. While the economy is still performing well after far exceeding its growth targets for 2021, many challenges remain, not least the crackdown on the property market that has led to firms defaulting on coupon payments and being forced into negotiations with bondholders.

This explains the PBOC decision overnight to cut interest rates and further easing is expected to follow as the central bank looks to support the economy through a turbulent period.

Oil rally continues as output continues to fall short

Oil prices are edging higher again at the start of the week as it continues its remarkable run since bottoming in early December. It’s up more than 30% over that time and there still appears to be momentum in the move. Kazakhstan has seen its output return to pre-unrest levels but that’s done little to slow the rally in recent sessions.

Ultimately it comes down to the ability of OPEC+ to deliver the 400,000 barrel per day increase that it’s vowed to do each month. The evidence suggests it’s not that straightforward and the group is missing the targets by a large margin after a period of underinvestment and outages. That should continue to be supportive for oil and increase talk of triple-figure prices.

Can gold break key resistance?

Gold is marginally higher on the day after pulling back again late last week. The yellow metal has repeatedly struggled at $1,833 and it would appear it’s having the same struggles this time around as well. It did finally break through here in November but it didn’t last and it seems the psychological barrier is as firm as ever.

That said, it’s impossible to ignore gold at the moment as it continues to rally despite more and more rate hikes being priced in around the world and yields rising in tandem. There could be an argument that we’re seeing safe haven or inflation hedge moves due to the current environment which could become more clear over the coming weeks.

Another run at $40,000?

Bitcoin is down a little over 2% at the start of the week and continues to look vulnerable having failed to bounce back strongly off the recent lows. It appeared to be gathering some upside momentum at times last week but it quickly ran into resistance just shy of $45,000 where it had previously seen support. All eyes are now on $40,000 and whether we’re going to see another run at that major support level.

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