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Receding Concerns

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

Another day, another directional move by markets on whatever the latest omicron headline is. Following on from yesterday’s indicative news from South Africa that the new Covid-19 variant could be milder than previous versions symptom-wise, much the same message was reinforced by the US’ Dr Anthony Fauci overnight.

That was all markets needed to hear really and equity markets in Europe and the US followed Asia’s lead and piled back in. Unsurprisingly, travel and leisure led the way while technology only rose modestly. When looked at in totality, markets appear to be moving rapidly back into pricing up the Fed taper trade. Value (old boring companies) outperformed growth (exciting technology companies), which makes sense as the US yield curve also steepened once again overnight. The theory being that technology and their ilk, with sky-high valuations, are more sensitive to upward moves in interest rates.

The US Dollar and oil also rallied overnight with markets getting back to business as usual. And today in Asia, the region is breathing a sigh of relief with equities performing well across the region. While I hope that we have seen “peak omicron,” if that proves not to be the case, I dread to think about the reversal of direction we will see. As I have previously stated, the winner in December will be volatility and not directional plays. We remain one negative omicron headline away from more of the former, and less of the latter.

That doesn’t mean there is nothing else going on, and a dousing of the omicron fires has allowed other themes to come back into focus. Next week’s FOMC policy meeting will be a critical juncture and the receding omicron threat (allegedly), should allow the FOMC to announce a faster taper and possibly earlier rate hikes. If US CPI prints at 7.0% on Friday, that should be a done deal.

But next week is a veritable all-you-can-eat buffet of central bank decisions. Hungary, Chile, Indonesia, Switzerland, Norway, the European Chief Government Debt Monetiser Bank (ECB), Mexico, Russia and perhaps the most exciting, Turkey. That isn’t an exhaustive list, and the PBOC announces its LPR’s the week after. After yesterday’s RRR cut was announced, the odds are rising of a cut in the 1-year LPR at least. Today, we have Australia, tomorrow India, Canada, Brazil and Poland.

We already know what the ECB, Japan and Australia will do, but the picture is murkier in the Latam, Eastern Europe space where we are likely to see a tightening bias continue. India may hint at a hike in 2022 in a change of direction as stagflationary forces increase. We can safely assume that all of Asia except Singapore and South Korea will be on hold through 2022. Turkey will be the outlier, where a collapsing currency and surging inflation could drive another Erdogan-omics rate cut. The tightening of US monetary policy has not been fully priced or appreciated by markets, and further divergence in that respect from Turkey will continue to make short Lira the easiest trade on the planet. I am just pondering where on my 2022 calendar to pencil in USD/TRY at 20.0000.

The situation in China’s property developer sector remains fluid, with Evergrande and Kaisa both looking to restructure their entire debt holdings, including offshore obligations. But highly-leveraged firms within the sector remain in deeply distressed territory with more obligations on offshore debts due this week. The first seeds of a solution appear to be occurring though, led by the RRR cut and debt restructuring hopes. I emphasise hopes as a positive outcome is far from certain. This story still has a lot more to run and any short-term rallies in the mostly Hong Kong-listed sector should be approached with extreme caution.

The Reserve Bank of Australia left policy rates unchanged today as expected. They did leave a glimmer of wiggle room in the accompanying statement to act sooner on rates if required. We can expect similar get out of jail clauses from a few central banks next week, most likely the ECB. The Australian Dollar has rallied modestly, but both it and its Kiwi cousin, remain at the mercy of nervous global risk sentiment, omicron, FOMC, or otherwise.

Receding omicron fears lift equities.

The modest rallies that started yesterday in Asia, continued to gain momentum overnight across Europe and the US, boosted by comments from Dr Anthony Fauci. That let markets get back to their global recovery trade happy place. However, that same sentiment also steepened the US yield curve and turned the focus back to an expectedly hawkish FOMC next week. Travel and leisure rebounded impressively, but the overriding them was one of value outperforming growth, with the Dow Jones having a stellar day versus the Nasdaq.

The S&P 500 rose 1.17% overnight, with the Nasdaq gaining 0.93% and the Dow Jones recording a stellar 1.87% rally. Futures on all three have continued in the same vein in Asia, rising 0.45% today. That has also reversed sentiment in Asia, notably in Japan and Hong Kong, both bastions of fast-money retail traders.

The Nikkei 225 has leapt 2.15% higher, with the Kospi rising 0.55%. In Mainland China, markets were also boosted by the RRR cut and easing lending conditions. The Shanghai Composite is flat, but the narrower Shanghai 50 is 0.65% higher, while the CSI 300 has risen by 0.60%. Property sector fears continue to cap gains on the Mainland. Hong Kong has rallied strongly, rising 1.85% as investors flocked back into China big-tech listings, which have endured torrid recent sessions.

Singapore has risen by 0.35%, with Kuala Lumpur 0.40% higher and Jakarta climbing by 0.70%. Taipei is unchanged while Manila has edged 0.25% lower with Bangkok jumping 1.05% higher. With the RBA also staying unchanged, Australian markets are also staging a strong recovery led by travel and leisure. The ASX 200 and All Ordinaries have risen by 1.05%.

With a dearth of tier-1 data in Europe today, I expect that sentiment will continue to drive market direction and that should see European stocks enjoy another positive start. As ever, the caveat on the equity rally will be if negative omicron headlines start hitting the news wires.

Currency markets content to range trade.

Currency markets showed little reaction to the Fauci omicron comments overnight, having already put the new variant behind it to focus on the upcoming FOMC meeting next week. That sentiment saw the US Dollar drift higher in a benign session, the dollar index rising 0.15% to 96.30 before falling slightly to 96.24 in Asia as currency markets continue to drift.

The Fed taper once again pushed USD/JPY higher as the US yield curve steepened once again overnight, USD/JPY rising 0.60% to 113.50, before adding another 0.20% to 113.70 in Asia. If we have indeed seen “peak omicron,” the 112.50 lows seen last week could well be the lows for the cross for the foreseeable future.

EUR/USD, GBP/USD are marking time around 1.1290 and 1.3285 with both vulnerable to a resumption of their medium-term downtrends next week if the BOE and ECB remain on hold while the FOMC speeds up tapering. AUD/USD rallied 0.40% today to 0.7080 after the RBA remained on hold but left the door slightly cracked for a faster unwinding of loose policy in the future. NZD/USD is treading water at 0.6760 with some Yen cross buying supporting both. Further gains are likely to be harder to come by if the US Dollar remains firm.

The US Dollar has weakened across the board versus Asian currencies thanks to the rebound in investor sentiment on weaker omicron fears. USD/Asia is down approximately 0.15% today in a quiet session. Looking ahead, as the market swings back to pricing in a fast Fed-taper and earlier rate hike life off, the rally by Asian currencies is likely to stall and reverse into next week.

Oil surges on lower omicron concerns.

The Fauci comments overnight saw more fast money returning to the long oil trade as markets started pricing a resumption of the global recovery and higher oil consumption. Brent crude leapt 5.40% higher to $73.65 a barrel, while WTI jumped 5.45% higher to $70.00 a barrel. In Asia, Brent has added 0.55% to $74.05, and WTI has added 0.90% to $70.65 a barrel.

Both contracts have quite a bit more upside potential, assuming the mild omicron reality is correct. The technical indicators are neutral but most especially, despite OPEC+ raising production quotas once again this month, the grouping continues to struggle to even meet its previously outlined increases. Virus volatility aside, that and OPEC+’s optionality over immediately changing the targets from the last meeting, which remains officially open, should provide a healthy modicum of support on any material pullbacks. Oil will be immune to a more hawkish FOMC next week.

Both contracts have recovered above their respective 100-day moving averages and if investor sentiment remains positive Brent crude can retest $76.00 and WTI $73.00 before the end of the week. I continue to believe that the lows of last week could well be the lows for the next year.

Gold remains marooned

Gold had another directionless session as it remains forgotten by the investor community, particularly those bullish traders who have been so badly whipsawed over the last month.  Gold drifted 0.30% lower to $1778.50 an ounce overnight as US yield firmed, only to reverse that in Asia, rising 0.20% to $1782.50 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 $1793.50 provides immediate resistance, followed by $1800.00. Support lies at $1770.00 and $1760.00.

Gold could still stage a modest recovery this week, but if the US yield curve continues steepening, that may never eventuate, especially if US CPI data on Friday is likely to print around 7.0%. Gold remains a sell on rallies to $1810.00. The balance of risks still favours a move lower towards $1720.00 an ounce.

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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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