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Omicron Headline Tennis Continues

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

Markets endured another night of high drama overnight thanks to the latest omicron return of serve by the CEO of Moderna, and Jerome Powell shifting to what can only be interpreted as a hawkish stance in testimony on the Hill. The Moderna CEO raised questions about the efficacy of present vaccines and omicron late in Asia yesterday, which stopped the recovery rally in its tracks. Equities tumbled in late Asia, Europe and the US, while investors poured cash into Bunds and US Treasuries, flattening the US curve, and the haven Yen and Swiss France jumped. Oil prices, perhaps the most schizophrenic market out there at the moment, collapsed once again, and we haven’t even got to OPEC+ yet.

Jerome Powell, testifying on the Hill yesterday, added to the tumult, retiring the word “transitory” as his favourite pronoun for inflation, and suggesting that the Federal Reserve could unwind monetary stimulus faster than previously announced. The abrupt change of direction caught markets off guard and deepened the malaise in equity markets, while short-dated US yields rose as long-dated ones were falling on omicron-haven inflow, the yield curve flattening substantially overnight.

Treasury Secretary Yellen, also testifying, pleaded with Congress to extend the debt ceiling, saying a recession could follow and that the government would run out of money around the middle of the month. This story has been off the news front pages for a while now and had little impact once again overnight. Markets clearly believe some sort of bipartisan deal will still occur once the chest-puffing is over.

The Powell comments would have had a far greater impact, I believe, if the Moderna omicron story had not done some of the work for markets already. In the case of bond markets, haven buyers of long-dated US yields overwhelmed any inclination by investors to sell treasuries and steepen the yield curve once again. That was also evident in European markets, where Eurozone inflation exploded higher to 4.90% but Bund yields fell. It was left to currency markets to take the strain, with the US Dollar falling across the board and the Euro rallying along with the haven currencies. Perhaps the most confusing move was the US Dollar falling versus the EM space. I am taking the EM FX rally overnight with a massive grain of salt, and I can only surmise that month-end flows played their part.

I warned yesterday that the only winner in December was likely to be volatility as the street sells everything on any negative omicron headline, and then buys everything back on any hint that the new variant isn’t as serious as we all thought. Despite the awful New York session, the fallout in Asia and Europe may not be so bad thanks to a story out of Israel released by Italy 24 News no less. The story quotes the Israeli Health Minister as saying three doses of vaccine (in Israel it is Pfizer), protects from omicron and there is no need to panic. When a politician says, “no need to panic,” I always get nervous, but, financial markets now have their hope is eternal, straw of the day, to grasp at now. Tomorrow is another day though, and I have no doubt that another headline will have the mindless herd we call the financial markets, stampeding the other way.

If we can strip out the noise, I would grasp two themes from overnight. Firstly, European inflation has joined the inflation bonfire and markets are now starting to price that the world’s government debt monetiser-and-chief, the ECB, may have to respond, hence the rally in the Euro overnight. I think that is a false hope. Secondly, Chairman Powell’s comments were a decidedly hawkish change of direction and the mid-month FOMC meeting will be live for a faster taper. Distortions from omicron pushed aside, the US yield curve should steepen, and the US Dollar rally will return in Q1 2022.

Back in the real world, we have had quite a bit of data out of Asia today. Australian Ai Group Manufacturing Index for November jumped to 54.8 and Markit Manufacturing PMI to 59.2. Australian Q3 GDP QoQ contracted by just -1.90%, far better than the -2.70% forecast. The data suggests that the lucky country weathered the Q3 lockdowns better than expected and is recovering in Q4 at a vigorous pace. House prices even went up in Brisbane more than they did in Sydney.

Elsewhere, November PMIs across Asia were positive. Japan’s Jibun Bank Manufacturing PMI rose to 54.5, while South Korea’s Markit Manufacturing PMI climbed to 50.9 and its trade data showed a wider surplus and rising exports and imports. Regional Markit Manufacturing PMIs from ASEAN and Taiwan showed impressive improvements into expansionary territory, with Taiwan holding steady at 53.9. Only Indonesia retreated, falling to 53.9 from 57.2, but still expansionary.

Perhaps the only blot on the copybook today has been China’s Caixin Manufacturing PMI which retreated from 50.6 in October to 49.9 in November. The fallout should be minimal as the official PMI climbed to 50.1 yesterday. It still suggests that China faces challenges regarding input costs, and energy, although the squeeze in the latter has eased somewhat. The trade surplus remains very healthy though, and the overall picture from Asia is that its post-delta recovery continues to gain momentum despite supply chain challenges. Obviously, omicron could change that picture, but it is far too soon to draw conclusions.

A number of heavyweight Markit Manufacturing PMIs, including Germany and France, are also released today, as well as the ISM Manufacturing PMI. They should hold steady in expansionary territory whilst revealing supply chain and material cost challenges under the bonnet. With omicron dominating market direction, their impact will be minimal. US ADP Employment could print above 500,000 jobs added tonight, giving weight to a stronger Non-Farm release on Friday and perhaps increasing the Fed tapering noise.

A mixed day for Asian equities.

The Moderna CEOs concerns about vaccine efficacy and omicron torpedoed late closing Asian equity markets overnight, as well as Europa and US markets. A hawkish Jerome Powell darkening an already dark day for Wall Street. However, US index futures are strongly rallying this morning on what I assume to be a follow-through from comments out of Israel that booster shots would offer omicron protection. That has also lifted some Asian markets.

Overnight, the S&P 500 sank by 1.90%, with the Nasdaq falling by 1.55%, while the Dow Jones slumped by 1,84%. In Asia, US futures have jumped higher, led by Nasdaq futures which have leapt 1.10%, followed by a gain of 0.75% by the S&P futures and a rise of 0.45% by Dow Jones futures.

In Asia, the picture is mixed, with late closing markets yesterday outperforming earlier closing ones that missed the Moderna headlines and are playing catchup. Thankfully, the rise in US index futures is taking the edge of regional losses. The Nikkei 225 is 0.70% higher with the Kospi leaping 1.60% higher, coat-tailing the Nasdaq futures. In China, the Shanghai Composite and CSI 300 are flat after a softer Caixin PMI and nagging property sector debt repayment concerns. The Hang Seng is showing no such worries, rocketing 1.45% higher.

Regional markets are mixed today. Taipei is unchanged as Singapore rallies sharply, rising higher by 1.40%, but Kuala Lumpur has fallen by 0.80% and Jakarta by 1.15%, hampered by the overnight slump in oil prices. Bangkok is 1.40% lower with Manila falling 0.55%. Australian markets are also in the red but only modestly. The All Ordinaries has fallen by 0.55%, with the ASX 200 down just 0.35%.

The price action this morning highlights that omicron headlines continue to dominate intra-day market direction despite some major developments from Jerome Powell overnight. European markets are likely to follow North Asia higher for exactly the same reasons and in an environment of schizophrenic tail-chasing, the only winner this week will be volatility.

A confusing night on currency markets.

It is difficult to unpick the overnight movements in currency markets. The Moderna omicron headlines sent haven currencies such as the Japanese Yen and Swiss Franc soaring, but the US Dollar also faded badly versus the Euro and the emerging market space. Inflows into the German Bund market will have assisted the Euro, but heighteded concerns over omicron should have weakened EM currencies, not strengthened them. Additionally, a hawkish Powell narrative in overnight testimony should have been US Dollar positive, although the US yield curve flattened afterwards.

I can only surmise that in the confused menagerie of overnight trading, month-end institutional flows played their part in the US Dollar’s demise. Notably, the Sterling and Australian and New Zealand Dollars barely moved on a closing basis, despite the EM FX rally. That suggests the risk sentiment remains fragile and that the EM rally overnight should be taken with a huge grain of salt. The prospect of a faster Fed taper and earlier hikes in 2022 should start to reassert themselves.

The dollar index traded in a frenzied 100 point range overnight between 95.50 and 96.50, before closing 0.31% lower at 95.89, rising slightly to 95.95 in Asia. 95.50 to 96.50 will probably cover the rest of the week, at least until the next omicron headline. EUR/USD rose 0.40% to 1.1330, but its rally looks fragile. USD/JPY and USD/CHF plummeted on haven buying, with USD/JPY testing 112.50 intra-day before closing at 113.20. The cross looks very overdone at 112.50 and I will stick my neck out and say that will be the week’s low.

The US Dollar has strengthened this morning, notably against the majors, perhaps as risk sentiment has recovered. That is evidenced by the 0.40% rise by AUD/USD and NZD/USD today, which are key barometers of market risk sentiment. Both currencies remain vulnerable to headline risk though and a move below their 2021 lows at 0.7100 and 0.6800 remains the path of least resistance.

Asian currencies rallied sharply overnight with SUD/CNY falling 0.405 to 6.3940, USD/MYR falling 0.90% to 4.2000 despite oil plummeting, and USD/KRW falling 0.70% to 1182.70, a pattern repeated across the Asia FX space. I believe month-end flows, as well as the fall of the USD/JPY, helped drive the EM outperformance. Asian currencies have continued to book more gains today in Asia, driven by improved risk sentiment after the vaccine efficacy story from Israel gained wider circulation. With Asia FX rallying on positive virus news, its stands to reason that the next negative headline will see them about-face. With Jerome Powell setting a hawkish tone overnight, I would urge caution about the longevity of the Asian FX rally.

Oil has another virus slump.

In a high-volatility week, oil markets are in a league of their own. The Moderna CEO’s vaccine efficacy comments yesterday triggered another massive slump in oil prices. Brent crude finished 4.50% lower at $70.15 a barrel, having traded below $68.00 intraday. WTI slumped 4.40% to $66.95 a barrel, having tested $64.50 intraday.

With risk sentiment improving slightly, and the fall in prices irresistible to physical bargain hunters, Brent and WTI have rallied by 0.85% to $70.8- and $65.65 in Asia. It must be noted, however, that the gains this morning are only a slight dent in the scale of the falls seen in the past four sessions. While positive virus headlines provide an excuse for fast-money buying, the weaker side still seems to be lower.

With panicked tail-chasing blowing out volatility this week, the full OPEC+ meeting tomorrow cannot come soon enough, with the grouping cancelling the JMMC meeting earlier this week to evaluate omicron. With oil’s slump overnight, it is almost certain that OPEC+ will pause its scheduled production hikes for December to allow it to assess the impact of omicron more fully on the world economy. President Biden won’t be happy, but it does seem to be the more sensible move right now.  If OPEC+ postpones hikes tomorrow, oil prices may stabilise around present levels.

Technical levels and indicators are fairly useless in markets such as this, driven by panicked swings in investor sentiment and low liquidity. However, for what it is worth, the relative strength indexes (RSIs) on both Brent and WTI are now heavily oversold, indicating markets are vulnerable to a short squeeze. The overnight lows should provide some support ahead of OPEC+. Until OPEC+ announces its decisions though, we can expect more blood-bath range trading.

Gold is in trouble.

Gold’s price action continues to underwhelm, as it finished the overnight session down 0.55% at $1775.00 an ounce, before eking out a 0.20% gain to $1778.70 an ounce in Asia, almost a rerun of the price action yesterday. 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 recorded its 3rd successive daily close below its 50,100 and 200 DMAs clustered between $1791.00 and $1792.20 an ounce, yet another bearish signal.

Gold will have resistance at $1800.00 and $1815.00, while yesterday’s low at $1770.00 an ounce, has traced out a double bottom support level. Failure of $1770.00 now signals a retest of $1760.00 and $1740.00 an ounce. I do not rule out a move lower to $1720.00 this week, especially if the Non-Farms puts the Fed taper front and centre after yesterday’s hawkish tone to the Powell testimony.

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

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New York Stock Exchange

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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