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V For Volatility

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

The buy-the-dip mafia was out in force yesterday, with a fair bit Friday’s Wall Street and European equity sell-off unwound, as well as Friday moves in bond, currencies and commodities and energy. Notably, it hasn’t been a complete reversal by any means, as the world settles into a choppy holding pattern, for clarity about just worried, or not, we should be about the new Covid-19 omicron variant.

President Biden attempted to sooth nerves overnight, but what really drove the retracement were anecdotal reports from the South African medical establishment suggesting that symptoms were milder than delta. Always ready to selectively edit the facts to fit the prevailing market sentiment, cases popping up in multiple locations around the world (they were probably there already), kneejerk travel bans on travellers from Southern Africa (there is no evidence it originated there, they just reported it first), and in the case of Japan, all foreigners, and WHO warnings that the new variant posed a “very high” risk, were mostly ignored by investors worldwide. The fact that markets haven’t completely unwound the Friday meltdowns at least suggests a modicum of caution remains.

To be fair, having been scared by delta, much of Asia is still in ultra-cautious mode, as their recovery was only just gathering steam with borders being tentatively reopened. And one can’t blame national governments for shooting first and asking questions later, after paying the price so badly for their delta complacency earlier this year. Whether that escalates into wider restrictions than a ban on travellers from Southern Africa also remains to be seen.

It will likely be a couple of weeks before the great and good of the global scientific community can make a definitive judgement on how serious the omicron variant is. That means December is likely to be choppy and driven by omicron headlines, and the heavyweight data calendar this week, will be rendered irrelevant. All that will matter is whether more restrictions are coming back around the world, and whether central banks, especially the Fed, hit the pause button on monetary tightening plans. I already know the answer to that one. The big winner this month will be volatility, we should see plenty of it. But with markets selling everything on negative omicron headlines and clasping at the most tenuous of straws to buy everything back on any perceived positive headlines, investors looking for thematic direction moves this month, are likely to be sorely disappointed.

Markets got nothing out of the stream of Fed speakers overnight, who seemed to be going out of their way to avoid thoughts on omicron-world monetary policy. We have had some heavyweight data from Asia today though, although as I have just mentioned, it has been largely ignored. South Korean and Japanese Industrial Production was released, with the YoY data outperforming, while the MoM prints disappointed. South Korea falling -3.0%, while Japan rose on 1.10%. Electronics continued to perform well, but automotive and transport suffered due to the semiconductor bugbear. A cynic might say that the recoveries in both countries are stalling, much like the recent data from China suggests.

Speaking of China, official Manufacturing and Non-Manufacturing PMIs were released for November this morning. Manufacturing PMI managed to recover marginally into expansionary territory, creeping up to 50.1. that follows a sharp rise in Industrial Profits over the weekend, with metals refining and energy, unsurprisingly, leading the way. The data suggests China isn’t out of the woods yet though, although you wouldn’t bet against them. Non-Manufacturing PMI held steady at 52.3, with Covid-19 restrictions potentially offset by Singles Day. The general PMI rose sharply from 50.8 to 52.2, and overall, the data suggests an improvement driven by an easing of China’s power crunch and a slight easing in lending criteria to the property sector. The data is steady, rather than spectacular, and I won’t e breaking out the champagne yet.

We have a raft of GDPs across the Eurozone, as well as Eurozone November Flash Inflation, and German Unemployment this after. In the US, we have the Case-Shiller Home Price data, ad well as CB Consumer Confidence and both Janet Yellen and Jerome Powell are testifying on The Hill I believe. Sadly, unless Mr Powell says the taper will stop if omicron is serious, all of this be ignored. V is for volatility, and there is only one story in town this week, and it is invisible to the human eye.

Wall Street rebound lifts Asian equities.

Asian equity markets mostly ignored the sharp rally in US index futures yesterday morning, but with the rally consolidating in OTC markets in the US and Europe overnight, Asia feels confident about dipping its toes in the water today, although the gains are not universal. On Wall Street, investors unwound much of Friday’s sell-off drama, and despite the tenuous reasoning behind the move, always respect momentum.

The S&P 500 rose 1.32%, the Nasdaq leapt 1.88% higher, while the Dow Jones turned in a respectable 0.65% gain. In Asia, the FOMO mafia have continued pushing index futures higher with Dow futures lifting by 0.25%, and S&P 500 and Nasdaq futures booking 0.10% gains.

After a stunning downside reversal late in the Tokyo session as the government banned entry to all foreigners, the Nikkei 225 is doing what it does best today, following the Nasdaq. Softer Industrial Production data has tempered the gains, but the Nikkei 225 is still 0.60% higher. However, South Korea’s Kospi is 1.05% lower after the government shelved plans to relax Covid-19 restrictions, highlighting once again, what is really driving markets right now. Meanwhile, Mainland China markets have edged higher, the Shanghai Composite and CSI 00 rising by just 0.15%. The casino sell-off persists in Hong Kong today, the latest sector in the Chinese government spotlight, leading the Hang Seng to shed 1.20%.

Across the region, Singapore is unchanged, unable to shake of PM Lee’s comments that Covid-19 freedoms could be rolled back if necessary. Kuala Lumpur though, has risen by 0.55% with Jakarta rising by 0.40% and Bangkok climbing 1.05% as investors build a tourism premium back in once again. Manila has fallen 1.0% while Taipei has rallied by 0.80%. Australian markets, never short of herd-like optimism, or a proclivity to slavishly follow Wall Street, have rallied strongly. The All Ordinaries is 1.10% higher, while the ASX 200 has risen by 0.80%.

European markets reclaimed some losses overnight, and the price action in Asia will likely inspire more buying initially. The same is likely on Wall Street as the pull of the FOMO remains irresistible. I would caution, however, that we are just one negative omicron headline from the whole rally everywhere, evaporating into thin air.

Currency markets remain much more cautious.

Currency markets were volatile overnight but notably, the recovery rally in the US Dollar ran out of steam. US yields rose only slightly after Friday’s sharp falls. The dollar index rose nearly 50 points to test 96.50 intraday but retreated to finish just 0.13% higher at 96.19. In Asia, the last of those gains have been unwound, the index falling 0.08% to 96.11. The index looks like to trade in a choppy 95.75 to 96.50 range over the next few sessions.

Notably, Euro, Sterling and Yen all fell slightly overnight while the Swiss Franc still managed to record gains, as did the Chinese Yuan and Canadian Dollar. EUR/USD is back to 1.1300, with GBP/USD at 1.3325, while USD/JPY is holding steady at 113.65. USD/JPY will find a recovery back above 114.00 challenging this week. AUD/USD and NZD/USD booked modest gains to 0.7145 and 0.6825 overnight, suggesting caution prevails in the G-10 space regarding omicron, and both antipodeans are only just holding above their 2021 lows still at 0.7100 and 0.6800.

USD/MXN and USD/ZAR fell sharply overnight, and that sees the US Dollar is moving lower across the board versus Asian currencies today, helped along by a fall by USD/CNY to 6.3715. USD/KRW, USD/MYR, USD/INR have fallen by 0.25% while USD/SGD and USD/THB are holding steady.

In the G-10 space, currencies appear to be reflecting some well-deserved caution towards omicron still, as usual, refusing to indulge in the mindless FOMO price action in the equity space. However, in the Asian regional space, local currencies appear to be pricing in the likelihood of a slower Fed taper, or even a halt to it thanks to the new variant. It is hard to argue with either thesis at the moment.

That suggests that a lower than expected Non-Farm Payrolls number on Friday is likely to see strength in the emerging space, rather than the DM space versus the US Dollar. And omicron will likely mute any strong dollar effects from a higher than 500k print on Friday. Like other asset classes, markets will be on tenterhooks for the latest omicron headlines across the news ticker.

Oil’s recovery hits an OPEC+ wall.

Oil managed to claw back some losses overnight, but the price action was far from impressive. Brent crude left higher initially, climbing over 5.0% intra-day, but gave back almost all those gains to finish just 0.74% higher at $73.40 a barrel overnight. WTI fared slightly better, closing 2.75% higher at $70.05 a barrel, and reclaiming its 200-day moving average. (DMA) In Asia, both contracts have added another 0.80% to $73.95 and $70.55.

Brent crude appears to have a higher beta to the OPEC+ meeting, logical given it is an international pricing benchmark, whereas WTI is very much US-centric. Overnight, Russia said that other members had not contacted it regarding halting production increases at the full OPEC+ meeting later this week, and that seems to have capped Brent’s recovery. Things move quickly in OPEC+ circles though and I remain of the opinion that the odds of a temporary halt to production increases is well above 50% now, especially with OPEC+ compliance already above 100%, suggesting limited swing capacity anyway.

That said, Friday’s lows still feel like the bargain of the year if you were an oil buyer, speculative or physical. Rather than second-guessing OPEC+, I am content to watch from the side-lines from here, as oil markets will be more vulnerable than most omicron headlines and violent swings in sentiment. Heightened volatile means that long or short, you P and L can still be nought.

The respective 200-DMAs at $72.70 and $70.00 a barrel should provide some support, if for no reason that a fall to those points will send the relative strength indexes (RSIs) into oversold territory. Above, some resistance should be found at $77.00, and $74.00 a barrel respectively.

Gold looks unimpressive.

Gold’s price action continues to underwhelm, as it finished the overnight session down 0.46% at $1785.00 an ounce, before eking out a 0.20% gain to $1788.50 an ounce in Asia. There are zero signs of any safe-haven bids emerging to shelter from virus volatility, and it is falling despite both US yields and the US Dollar also falling. Gold has now closed below its 50,100 and 200 DMAs clustered between $1791.00 and $1792.50 an ounce.

Gold will have resistance at $1800.00 and $1815.00 to start the week, while yesterday’s spike to $1770.00 an ounce, 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. Friends are what gold needs to find quickly though, and I do not rule out a move lower to $1720.00 this week, especially if the Non-Farms puts the Fed taper back in the spotlight and we have a lull in virus headlines.

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Fed Must Not Fail on Inflation AGAIN With Too Many Hikes

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The U.S. Federal Reserve has already failed on inflation, they must not do so again by “hitting the brakes too hard with too many rate hikes,” affirms the CEO of one of the world’s largest independent financial advisory, asset management and fintech organisations.

The comments from deVere Group’s Nigel Green follow the world’s most influential central bank on Wednesday refusing to rule out an aggressive run of interest rate rises as he all but confirmed the first increase would be implemented in March.

He says: “As was widely expected by the markets, the Fed –  now in hawkish mode – has practically green-lit a rate rise for the first time in three years in March as it tries to take on surging inflation, which is running at its hottest in 40 years.

“The Fed admitted that inflation may not drop toward its pre-pandemic levels any time soon, and that the rise in prices could, in fact, speed-up.

“Why, then, did the world’s most powerful central bank not act sooner to stem this off quicker?

“This grand scale inaction must be the biggest miscalculation in the Fed’s history.”

He continues: “However, now the debate is focusing on how fast the U.S. central bank will move toward policy normalization.”

Some leading experts on Wall Street are saying there could be up to five rate hikes in 2022, others are now suggesting even more than this.

“I would urge the Fed not to fail on inflation again by hitting the brakes with too many rate hikes,” says Nigel Green.

“The excess money in the system will come out fast. There’s a real risk that numerous interest rate hikes would cause a recession and may not even slow inflation as the soaring prices are triggered by supply chain issues which the Fed’s hikes will not solve.”

At Wednesday’s meeting, the Chair Jerome Powell swerved a question about whether the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) would raise rates at all subsequent meetings this year, which would mean seven increases in 2022.

The deVere CEO concludes: “With booming demand, snarled supply chains and high levels of wage growth, the Fed might be tempted to act too fast with rate hikes this year.

“But such moves could turn out to be a masterclass in the law of unintended consequences.”

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Markets Today – Earnings, Fed, BoC, Oil, Gold, Bitcoin

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

We’re seeing a strong start to trading on Wednesday after what has been a very turbulent start to the week.

We’ve seen some sharp sell-offs already this week but investors appear to be encouraged by just how quickly and strong markets have bounced back. Monday looked like it was going to be a bloodbath in equity markets but rather than panic, investors poured back in and seized upon the lower valuations.

We saw this again after the close on Tuesday, when Microsoft earnings caused another wobble but reassurances around decelerating cloud growth were enough to trigger another wave of bargain hunting and we’re seeing that carry through to Europe today. US futures also look very healthy ahead of a crucial Fed decision later.

Fed misstep could have severe consequences

The Fed could have a big role to play in whether stock markets will build on these encouraging signs. As ever, every word will be poured over so I expect the central bank will take a very careful approach in its communication later on.

They need to be careful to find the right balance between taking inflation seriously and not overdoing it. These markets will be easily spooked so today is all about finding just the right balance. That means sending a clear signal about a March hike and alluding to discussions around balance sheet reduction towards the middle of the year.

We probably won’t get any specifics from Powell on when that will start or how fast it will happen, nor on how many hikes we’ll get this year. He will probably be keen to stress how seriously they’re taking it though and how they’ll do whatever is necessary. Ultimately, we may learn very little but the important thing is we don’t see a misstep as the consequences could be severe.

BoC expected to start aggressive tightening cycle

The Bank of Canada is unlikely to wait until March, with markets quite heavily pricing in a rate hike today and as much as six this year. This comes as inflation has risen to the highest level in 30 years and far above its 1-3% target range. With the labour market also tightening following a strong recovery from the pandemic, the time has arrived for accommodation to be removed.

The only question now is just how fast they’ll move and whether they’ll look to reduce their balance sheet, rather than just aggressively raise rates. The loonie has performed well recently, buoyed by very hawkish rate expectations and we could get more clarity on how accurate they are today.

Oil eyeing triple figures after brief pullback

Oil prices are continuing to edge higher after a brief pullback last week. The move followed some turbulence at the start of the week and came as API reported an 872,000 barrel draw which exceeded expectations. Crude prices are once again closing in on $90 and at this point, it doesn’t look like we’ll be waiting long.

So immediately it becomes a question how long we’ll be waiting for triple figures. The supply/demand dynamics remain favourable and the potential for conflict in Ukraine can only be supportive, as additional risk premiums are priced in. It’s still unlikely that oil and gas will be used as a weapon any time soon but if it was, it could lead to a serious surge in prices given how tight the markets are.

Gold awaits Fed decision

Gold is continuing to hold up ahead of the Fed meeting, close to $1,850 where it has seen some resistance recently. The central bank will have a big role to play on whether the yellow metal breaks above here or below $1,830 support.

It has been rising recently even as the market has priced in four hikes and balance sheet reduction which may suggest we’re seeing some inflation hedging in case more tightening is needed. Risk aversion may also be supporting the gold price. Either way, we should have more clarity later today.

Cause for optimism?

The recovery in bitcoin over the last couple of days has been really encouraging. After falling to around $33,000, more than 50% from its highs, the cryptocurrency has performed extremely well and finds itself 4% higher on the day around $38,000. It’s not out of the woods yet though and if broader risk appetite takes a hit, I’d expect bitcoin to suffer more. Whether that will see it test the crucial $30,000 region, only time will tell, but traders will be very relieved at what they’ve seen this week. The key test above is $40,000, a break of which could see momentum accelerate to the upside.

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Markets Today – Rollercoaster Ride, Fed, Earnings, Ukraine, Oil, Gold, Bitcoin

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

It’s been a rollercoaster start to what was always going to be a massive week in the markets and there’s little reason to expect that to change in the coming days.

The turnaround on Monday was incredible. From eye-watering losses to ending the day in the green; it’s not often you see that kind of action. Investors will no doubt be relieved but that could prove to be short-lived. US futures are back in negative territory ahead of the open – albeit to a much lesser degree at the moment – and even at the close on Monday, the Nasdaq was more than 13% off its highs.

The next couple of days will be huge. So much could hang on the communication from the Fed tomorrow and whether they strike the right balance between taking inflation seriously and not raising rates too aggressively. It’s a tightrope situation but if the central bank can find the right balance, more may be tempted by these levels.

It’s not just on the Fed, of course. On Monday, it was geopolitics that appeared to tip investors over the edge. The reaction looked over the top but that is indicative of the level of underlying anxiety in the markets at the moment. And if things don’t improve this week, we may see more episodes like that.

Which brings us to earnings season and a week in which numerous companies release fourth-quarter results, including a number of big tech names. A disappointing start to the season hasn’t helped to lift the mood but that could change this week. If not, the January blues could turn into something far more unsettling.

Fundamentals remain bullish for oil

Oil got caught up in the sell-everything panic at the start of the week, sliding more than 3% at one stage before recovering a little. There wasn’t much sense behind the move, but the fact that the dollar was strengthening and crude was already seeing profit-taking after peaking just shy of $90, probably contributed to it.

The market remains fundamentally bullish and conflict with Russia does nothing to alleviate supply-side pressures. If anything, the risks are tilted in the other direction, not that I think it will come to that. Nor does the market at this point, it seems.

Still, it was only likely to be a matter of time until oil bulls poured back in and prices are up again today. The correction from the peak was less than 5% so that may be a little premature, but then the market is very tight so perhaps not.

Conditions remain favourable for gold

Gold continues to be well supported at the start of the week, following some turbulent trading conditions and dollar strength. It continued to hold over the last couple of sessions around $1,830 and has pushed higher with $1,850 now in its sights.

The yellow metal is pulling back a little today, off a few dollars, but it remains in a good position. There still appears to be momentum behind the rally which could continue to take it higher. A move through yesterday’s lows could see that slip but at this point in time, conditions continue to look favourable. Of course, the Fed tomorrow could have a huge role to play in whether that continues to be the case which may explain the consolidation in recent days.

A strong recovery for bitcoin

Bitcoin rebounded strongly on Monday, alongside other risk assets that had also been pummelled earlier in the day. It’s trading a little lower today but that won’t be a major concern at this stage as broader risk appetite is holding up so far. Whether that is sustainable will determine how bitcoin responds and that may depend on the Fed tomorrow.

Bitcoin found support at $33,000 on Monday which isn’t far from a hugely important support zone around $30,000. If risk appetite takes a turn for the worse again, we could see that come under severe pressure. If the price can hold above here in the short term, it could be a very positive sign.

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