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Mild Symptoms….

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

US equity index futures are performing another omicron U-turn this morning, limiting the fallout in Asian markets of another fairly gruesome Wall Street session on Friday. The driver of the whip-saw return of serve omicron headline tennis comes from South Africa, where an article from the South African Medical Research Council, suggests that omicron symptoms were milder than previous incarnations, with hospitalised patients mostly having comorbidities. Of course, the sample size is small, but markets never let “the data” these days get in the way of narrative. Omicron variant milder = U-turn = buy everything.

Asia, having suffered so greatly in the delta wave, is understandably more cautious and now is also coming to grips with the reality of the Federal Reserve taper as well as China’s “shared prosperity,” property sector and tech-saga travails. It is no surprise that regional investors have refused to join in North America’s virus ping pong price action unless you are a retail FOMO-gnome inhabitant of Japan’s Nikkei, and South Korea’s Kospi.

Last Friday’s US Non-Farm Payrolls was dismal, adding just 210,000 jobs with a modest upward revision of 82,000 jobs to the October data. The soft data turned into a nil-all draw for markets though as the household employment data suggested 1.1 million jobs had been added, sending the unemployment rate plunging from 4.60% to 4.20%. There are still 10 million open jobs in America and the National Federation of Independent Business survey shows small businesses are crying out for workers. The participation rate remains a dire 61.80%, even as ISM Non-Manufacturing PMI and Business Activity, Employment sub-indexes outperformed.

The truth about employment clearly lies somewhere between the two headline numbers with the household survey likely more prone to exaggeration. Nevertheless, it seems clear that either the workforce has shrunk dramatically through early retirements for example, or Americans are so much wealthier, thanks to the Federal Reserve pimping up asset prices, that they feel no need to immediately return? In this respect, the Fed may have accidentally shot itself in the foot. Such is life in economics, cause, and effect.

Net-net, the overall data impact on Friday didn’t change the narrative surrounding a fast Fed taper and markets have now priced in two rate hikes by late 2022. Apart from allowing markets to fret over omicron into the end of the week, faster tapering and rate hikes impacted tasty valuations of tech stocks, but also lifted the US Dollar. The US bond market continues to behave interestingly though, with the curve flattening instead of steepening, as bond markets price in faster, but lower terminal rates from the FOMC, and remaining comfortable that the Fed has medium/long-term inflation under control.

Things are going to get very interesting if that narrative changes and its first challenge could come this Friday if US CPI prints at 7.0%+ YoY. Secondly, if more omicron outlooks hit the street this week suggesting it is more contagious but less aggressive, you can reasonably assume we have seen the lows in USD/JPY and USD/CHF and oil, but I suspect technology will still struggle at the expense of the denizens of the Dow Jones and Russel 2000. ASEAN will probably be the winner as well versus North Asia.

Of course, China issues have not disappeared and despite reassuring words from various state organs regarding China company US listing over the weekend, nerves surrounding China big-tech will continue. The property sector faces another reckoning this week as well after Evergrande announced on Friday it had received a $260 million repayment demand, and that it could not guarantee it would be able to meet liabilities going forward. That led to the Guangdong local government “sending in a team” to help manage operations. Evergrande and Kaisa face offshore payment deadlines today and tomorrow as well. There is still plenty of juice in this story into the year-end, with Hong Kong markets probably the more vulnerable. What has likely changed, is that the odds of a RRR cut by the PBOC have ramped up.

The data calendar is mostly second-tier this week in Asia except for the Reserve Bank of Australia and India’s latest policy decisions. Directional moves will be dominated by omicron, Evergrande/Kaisa and Friday’s US CPI data, ahead of a central bank policy decision frenzy around the world next week.

Today’s ANZ Job Advertisements, which rose by 7.40% MoM in November, is unlikely to sway the RBA from its ultra-cautious, release the doves, course. The policy statement will be the more interesting, with markets searching for signs of wavering of that course from the RBA. They are likely to be disappointed with omicron community infections in Australia leaving the central bank’s finger glued to the W for Wimp button. The RBI’s policy decision will be more interesting. Rates will remain unchanged, but with stagflation, I mean inflation, moving higher recently, the RBI may signal a rate hike or two are coming. That will be another headwind for local equities, although the Rupee may gain some support, assuming the RBI doesn’t provoke a stampede of international fast money out of local equities.

Oil is on the move today as well, with Saudi Arabia raising January prices to Asian and US customers by $0.60 a barrel over the weekend, although it cut official selling prices (OSPs) to European customers. Technically, that will make other grades of oil from other producers around the world more appealing to Asian buyers, but Brent crude and WTI are up by 2.0% today anyway. Given that OPEC+ is proceeding with its planned 400,000 bpd increase this month, it appears that Saudi Arabia is taking a punt that omicron is a virus in a teacup. Saudi Arabia’s confidence, along with the South African omicron article over the weekend, is a boost to markets looking for good news in any corner they can find it.

The section where Jeff talks about Bitcoin.

Finally, one “asset class” that didn’t enjoy any good news was the crypto space. Fresh from Singapore banning a local crypto exchange for promoting a coin illegally associated with a South Korean boy band, yep, cryptos are a maturing market with more institutional participants, Bitcoin and Ether slumped by around 20% on Saturday, before recovering over half of those losses. I am at a loss to why this happened, but I’ll take a wild guess. Cryptos trade in little islands of liquidity on centralised exchanges, there is not one venue aggregating liquidity. A large leveraged position or two had margin calls on Saturday, and the resulting selling triggered a perfect storm amongst other long positions in a low liquidity time period in isolated liquidity venues. Arbitrageurs would have had a field day. The automated “market makers” did what they do in any other asset class when the going gets tough, disappeared. (insert flash crash/asset class here)

Because cryptos are a rapidly maturing mainstream asset class, I applied an appropriately scientific approach to the problem. I did a voodoo dance threw chicken entrails into the air. When the chicken entrails landed, otherwise known as technical analysis, it actually suggests Saturday’s sell-off was in fact bullish. Bitcoin’s plummet to $42,000.00 was very near to the 61.80% Fibonacci retracement of the January to November rally. The 200-day moving average at $$46,400.00 also held on a closing basis. I’m not going to say the coast is clear until Bitcoin reclaims $53,000.00, though. It does look like Bitcoin is vulnerable to more downside liquidity events, so approach my voodoo dancing chicken entrails outlook with caution.

I look forward to my email inbox filling up tonight with strange people calling me an idiot and saying they all bought Bitcoin at $1.0. I will receive none from people saying I bought it at $67,000.00 and I wish I’d listened to you, Jeff. For me, I eagerly await the gigantic “institutional players” appearance to “stabilise markets.” Bueller? Bueller? Ferris Bueller?

Weaker omicron hopes lessen Friday fallout on Asian equities.

Asian equities are having a mixed day today after US index futures rallied this morning in hopes that omicron is a milder variant. That came after another torrid Wall Street session, where mixed signals from US employment data led to higher Fed tapering nerves mixed in with negative omicron sentiment. On Friday, the S&P 500 fell by 0.84%, the Nasdaq slumped by 1.92% and the Dow Jones outperformed, falling just 0.19%. A faster Fed taper and early rate hikes clearly benefit value versus growth at the moment, with the US yield curve flattening once again.

An abrupt reversal has occurred on initial reports that omicron is a weaker variant. Dow Jones futures have jumped by 0.65% today, while S&P 500 futures are 0.50% higher, with Nasdaq futures lagging, rising just 0.15%. It seems that positive omicron news will be expressed further by value outperforming growth against the background of a more hawkish FOMC.

That has taken the edge of Asian markets as well with the Nikkei 225 falling just 0.45% today, led by a 9.0% slump by Softbank. South Korea’s Kospi, by contrast, is 0.10% higher. Mainland China is outperforming after comments from officials and press over the weekend raised expectations of an imminent RRR cut and more lending. China’s “national team’ may also be around, “smoothing” markets. That sees the Shanghai Composite rising by 0.65% today, with the CSI 300 climbing 0.35%.

Hong Kong markets are enduring a torrid session with China big-tech stocks being hammered once again on delisting and crackdown nerves. Evergrande’s day of truth sees it trading 10% lower as well. The Hang Seng is down by 1.20%.

Regionally, Singapore is 0.80% higher, whiles Kuala Lumpur has fallen by 0.45% and Jakarta has risen by 0.55%. Taipei is 0.30% lower, with Manila rising by 1.20% and Bangkok falling 0.45%. Australian markets have also edged lower, the ASX 200 easing by 0.15%, and the All Ordinaries moving 0.30% lower.

Hong Kong aside, the positive omicron headlines, have encouraged Asian buy-the-dippers back into the market today, albeit unevenly. European markets are likely to seize on the omicron-is-weaker hopes as well and I expect Europe and the UK to open quite positively this afternoon. As ever, market direction and sentiment remains fragile. Although markets are desperate to grasp at any straws of hope on the virus front, we are one headline away from the straw being taken from our grasp and direction changing abruptly.

The US Dollar maintains its Fed tapering boost.

The US Dollar shrugged of a confused US employment data picture on Friday as markets put omicron to one side and priced in that a faster Fed taper from the FOMC remains on track to be announced next week. Markets have also priced in faster rate hikes as well, supporting the US Dollar even as the US yield curve flattens. The dollar index held steady at 96.15 on Friday, rising 12 points to 96.27 in Asia.

The rise in the dollar index has been driven by a reversal out of the haven Japanese Yen and Swiss France today as omicron worries subside for now. USD/JPY and USD/CHF have risen 0.16% and 0.28% to 113.00 and 0.9205 respectively. If the initial reports from South Africa turn out to be correct globally, markets have seen the lows in both pairs for some time.

Those currencies most associated with risk sentiment are finding very little respite though, namely the commonwealths and Euro. Instead of omicron, sentiment concerns have been replaced with a faster Fed taper and more rapid US interest rate hikes. EUR/SD and GBP/USD have edged lower to 1.1290 and 1.3235 today and remain a sell on any 50 to 100 point rally. AUD/USD has risen 0.30% to 0.7020 on firm ANZ jobs data, but NZD/USD remains stuck around 0.6760. Both remain vulnerable to deeper sell-offs this week and in the case of AUD/USD, it has formed a very negative head-and-shoulders technical pattern targeting a multi-week move to near 0.6000.

The PBOC set a weaker Yuan fixing today but USD/CNY has still eased 0.10% to 6.3685. Other Asian currencies are also enjoying a modest omicron respite, with MYR, KRW, PHP, SGD, and THB between 0.15% and 0.25% higher this morning. The longevity of the rally is entirely dependent on omicron headlines, as it is elsewhere. But being more sensitive as a region to US monetary policy, I believe gains will be limited at best by Asian currencies this week as Fed taper nerves ratchet higher. A higher than expected US CPI on Friday likely sees another wave of selling sweeping Asian FX as well as the Euro and commonwealths.

Saudi Arabia/Omicron lifts oil prices in Asia.

Oil prices eased on Friday on omicron fears, Brent crude falling 0.90% and WTI falling by 1.45%. The falls were modest though by recent standards where the intraday volatility had threatened to make oil almost untradeable. The commitment of traders positioning also shows a massive drawdown in speculative long positioning, making exposure more balanced, also a supportive factor.

Oil prices have rallied sharply in Asia after Saudi Arabia yesterday announced January price increases to Asian and US customers, and weekend reports from South Africa suggested omicron was less harsh than previous variants. Brent crude is 2.10% higher at $71.35 a barrel, and WTI is 2.0% higher at $67.75 a barrel.

I am struggling to construct a positive narrative out of Saudi Arabia raising prices, especially as it makes competing grades more appealing to their client base. The best I can do is that Saudi Arabia feels confident raising prices despite higher OPEC+ production because it believes omicron is a storm in a test tube and that the global recovery will not be derailed. The South African reports have reinforced that sentiment.

Whether that sentiment lasts or not, the relative strength indexes (RSIs) that I mentioned last week remain near oversold suggesting that any oil sell-offs from here will be shallower and shorter in nature. Brent crude needs to reclaim $73.00, and WTI $70.00 a barrel to tentatively say the lows are in place. If omicron is proven over the coming days (or weeks) to be less aggressive, even if it is more contagious, then we can say 100% last weeks lows were the bargain of the quarter, and possibly for H! 2022, for those brave enough to indulge.

Gold remains forgotten.

Gold remains side-lined, trading sideways on a closing basis, despite some decent intraday ranges. On Friday, thanks to a mixed US employment report leading to a flattening yield curve, gold managed to gain 0.88% to $1783.90 an ounce. In Asia, gold is barely changed, easing 0.10% lower to $1781.70 an ounce.

In the bigger picture, gold looks set to trade in a rough $1770.00 to $1800.00 an ounce range this week, unable to sustain momentum above or below those levels. The 50,100 and 200-day moving averages (DMAs), clustered between $1791.00 and $1793.00 provide immediate resistance, followed by $1800.00. Support lies at $1770.00 and $1760.00.

With the omicron outlook looking less bleak, and with longer-dated US yields continuing to fall, gold could well stage a modest recovery this week. However, with the US CPI data on Friday likely to print around 7.0%, gold remains a sell on rallies to $1810.00. A 7.0% print will raise the faster taper and rate hike noise ahead of next week’s FOMC meeting, and longer-dated yields could finally shake off their medium-term inflation lethargy. The balance of risks still favours a move lower towards $1720.00 an ounce.

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Markets

Markets Today – Inflation, Jobless Claims, Boris Blunder, Oil, Gold, Bitcoin

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outlook

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

It’s been a rollercoaster start to the year and as we head into earnings season, it’s hard to say exactly where investors stand.

Blocking out the January noise is one thing but it’s made far more complicated by omicron, inflation, and the rapid evolution of monetary policy. Yesterday’s reaction to the inflation data was a case in point. The data mostly exceeded expectations, albeit marginally, while headline inflation was a near 40-year high of 7%. And yet the response was broadly positive.

I get that traders were perhaps fearing the worst and, as I’ve referenced before, it does feel like markets are at peak fear on US monetary policy which could make relief rallies more likely. But there is also underlying anxiety in the markets that could make for some volatile price action for the foreseeable future.

Perhaps earnings season will bring some welcome normality to the markets after a period of fear, relief, and speculation. The fourth quarter is expected to have been another strong quarter, although the emergence of omicron will likely have had an impact during the critical holiday period for many companies. Of course, as we’ve seen throughout the pandemic, that will likely have been to the benefit of others.

And while earnings season will provide a distraction, it is happening against an uncertain backdrop for interest rates and inflation which will keep investors on their toes. It does seem that investors are on the edge of what they will tolerate and it won’t take much to push them over the edge. Which will be fine if we are near the peak of inflation, as many expect.

The data today looks a mixed bag on the face of it, with jobless claims coming in a little higher than expected, which may be down to seasonal adjustments. The overall trend remains positive and continues to point to a tight labor market. The PPI data on the other hand will be welcomed, with the headline number slipping to 0.2% month on month. Perhaps a sign of supply-side pressures finally starting to abate which will come as a relief after inflation hit a near-40 year high last month.

Sterling solid as pressure mounts on Boris

It seems impossible to ignore the political soap opera currently taking place in the UK, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson once again in the public firing line after finally admitting to attending an office party in May 2020.

In other circumstances, uncertainty around the top job in the country could bring pressure in the markets but the pound is performing very well. Perhaps that’s a reflection of the controversy that forever surrounds Boris, and we’re all therefore numb to it, or a sign of the environment we’re in that the PM being a resignation risk is further down the list when compared with inflation, interest rates, omicron, energy prices etc.

Oil remains bullish near highs

Oil prices are easing again today after moving back towards seven-year highs in recent weeks. It was given an additional bump yesterday following the release of the EIA data which showed a larger draw than expected. But with crude already trading near its peak, it maybe didn’t carry the same momentum it otherwise would.

The fundamentals continue to look bullish for gold. Temporary disruptions in Kazakhstan and Libya are close to being resolved, with the latter taking a little longer to get fully back online. But OPEC being unable to hit output targets at a time when demand remains strong is ultimately keeping prices elevated and will continue to do so.

A big test for gold

Gold is off a little today but the price remains elevated with key resistance in sight. The yellow metal has remained well supported in recent weeks even as yields around the world continue to rise in anticipation of aggressive tightening from central banks.

It could be argued that the bullish case for gold is its reputation as an inflation hedge, especially given central banks’ recent record for recognizing how severe the situation is. But with inflation likely nearing its peak, that may not last. That said, fear around Fed tightening may also be peaking which could support gold in the short-term and a break through $1,833 could signal further upside to come.

Can bitcoin break key resistance?

Bitcoin is enjoying some relief along with other risk assets and has recaptured $44,000, only a few days after briefly dipping below $40,000. That swift 10% rebound is nothing by bitcoin standards and if it can break $45,500, we could see another sharp move higher as belief starts to grow that the worst of the rout is behind it. It looks like a fragile rebound at the moment but a break of that resistance could change that.

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Crude Oil

Brent Crude Oil Trading at $84.53 a Barrel

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Crude Oil - Investors King

The increase in Omicron variant cases has cast doubt on demand for crude oil in the near-term and trimmed gains recorded earlier in the week on Thursday during the Asian trading session.

The brent crude oil, against which Nigerian oil is priced, pulled back from $85.16 per barrel on Wednesday to $84.53 per barrel at 9:50 am Nigerian time on Thursday.

The uncertainty surrounding the highly contagious Omicron variant and its impact on fuel demand has shown by the U.S Energy Information Administration on Wednesday dragged on the global crude oil outlook.

The data released on Wednesday revealed that gasoline stockpiles rose by 8 million barrels last week, way higher than the 2.4 million barrel increase projected by experts. Suggesting that demand for the commodity is gradually waning in response to omicron.

“Gasoline demand was weaker-than-expected and still below pre-pandemic levels, and if this becomes a trend, oil won’t be able to continue to push higher,” OANDA analyst Edward Moya stated.

However, in a note to Investors King, Craig Erlam, a senior market analyst, UK & EMEA, OANDA, expected the impact of omicron to be short-lived. Libya’s inability to ramp up production after outage and OPEC plus continuous failure to meet production target are expected to support crude oil in the main term even with Kazakhstan expected to get back to pre-disruption levels in a few days.

“With omicron seen being less of a drag on growth and demand than feared. Combine this with short supply and there may be some room to run in the rally as restrictions are removed. Of course, Covid brings unpredictability and zero-covid policies of China and some others bring plenty of downside risk for prices,” he said.

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Commodities

Soybean Oil Prices to Rise by 4% in 2022 Over Increase in Demand for Biofuels

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Soybean Oil

In 2022, global soybean oil prices, driven by an increase in the demand for biofuels, have been projected to rise by about 4 percent, to $1,425 per tonne; a market report from IndexBox reveals.

According to the IndexBox report, the growing demand for biofuels, especially in Asia, will increase the prices of soybean oil globally.

The platform put it that in 2021, the average annual soybean oil price rose by 65 percent year-on-year to $1,385 per tonne, from $838 per tonne. Strong demand and high freight rates in China, which is the world’s second-largest importer of soybean oil, resulted in the most rapid price growth of the commodity in the third quarter (Q3) of the same year. Weather-related disruptions to production in South America also caused soybean oil prices to rise fast.

In 2020, IndexBox estimates that soybean oil purchases in the foreign markets rose by 7.5% to 13 million tonnes, increasing for the second year in a row after three years of decline. In value terms, soybean oil imports have grown notably to $10.3 billion.

India was the highest importing country with a purchase volume of around 3.7 million tonnes, accounting for 28% of global supplies. China ranked second with a purchase volume of 963 thousand tonnes.  Algeria (670 thousand tonnes) and Bangladesh (666 thousand tonnes) were ranked as the third and fourth major importing country.

The four countries altogether accounted for about 17% of total soybean oil imports. Coming behind as the fifth-highest importer is Morocco (547 thousand tonnes), followed by Mauritania (537 thousand tonnes), Peru (521 thousand tonnes), South Korea (390 thousand tonnes), Colombia (378 thousand tonnes), Venezuela (373 thousand tonnes), Egypt (243 thousand tonnes), Poland (229 thousand tonnes) and Nepal (215 thousand tonnes).

India in value terms ($3 billion) being the largest market for soybean oil imports in the world, accounted for 29 percent of global imports. The second position in the ranking was taken by China ($725 million) with a 7 percent share. North African country, Algeria came third with a share of 4.6 percent of the total value.

Top Soybean oil exporters

In 2020, Argentina was the major exporter of soybean oil (5.3 million tonnes), constituting 42% of total exports. The United States (1238 thousand tonnes), Brazil (1110 thousand tonnes), Paraguay (631 thousand tonnes), the Netherlands (615 thousand tonnes) and Russia (611 thousand tonnes) follow, altogether accounting for 33% of global supplies. Meanwhile, Spain (387 thousand tonnes), Bolivia (377 thousand tonnes), Ukraine (302 thousand tonnes), Turkey (208 thousand tonnes) and Germany (192 thousand tonnes) had relatively small shares in the total volume.

In value terms, Argentina remains the largest supplier of soybean oil in the world ($ 3.7 billion), which accounts for 39% of global exports. The United States ($ 979 million), with a share of 10% of the total supply is ranked second. Both countries are followed by Brazil with an 8% share.

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