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January Blues

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Market summary

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

It’s been something of a downbeat day in the markets, something we may see more of this morning as the January blues kick in.

The omicron relief trade appears to have played out now and attention has quickly shifted back to the interest rates dilemma, with the economy performing well but not firing on all cylinders, the labor market extremely tight and inflation at risk of getting out of control.

Central bank policymakers would ordinarily like to be more patient during this stage of the recovery cycle but the pandemic was no ordinary economic shock and this is certainly no ordinary recovery.

Based on how investors responded to the Fed minutes on Wednesday, you’d be forgiven for thinking they’re terrified at the prospect of tighter monetary policy and couldn’t have foreseen what the central bank was about to unleash upon us. But the reality is very different and the reaction is over the top. Something I tend to expect this time of year.

Aside from the references to balance sheet reduction, which at this point are merely an option up for discussion, there was nothing in the minutes that wasn’t clear after the meeting. Slightly higher yields are a normal response to the balance sheet discussion but the level of risk aversion seen across the markets is not.

Data from the US today appears to continue to point to the same thing for the US, as far as inflation is concerned. Labour markets are extremely tight which should lead to higher wages, higher inflation expectations, and more permanent pandemic price pressures. And an apparent easing of supply-side pressures that could see temporary inflation pressures abate. Cause for concern and optimism if you’re a central banker.

Oil shakes off sentiment hit

Oil is continuing to push higher as traders price in a modest economic impact from omicron. The OPEC+ meeting this week supported the view and the price of oil is now not far from its October peak, with WTI closing in on $80 for the first time in almost two months.

The knock to broader market sentiment from the Fed minutes is not reverberating around the crude market, with prices up more than 2% on the day and backed by momentum.

Gold hit hard by Fed minutes

Gold’s recovery in late December appeared to be built on rocky foundations and the Fed minutes delivered a hammer blow to hopes of sustaining a move above $1,800 in the near term. The yellow metal has slipped further today, off more than 1%, and we could see the pullback gather momentum.

Once again, resistance around $1,833 has got the better of gold. It appeared to have finally broken the barrier in November but it wasn’t long before it came crashing down once more and the last week has shown it remains as much a barrier now as it did before.

A nasty shock for bitcoin

Bitcoin has snoozed its way into 2022 and the Fed minutes on Wednesday gave it just the shock it needed to bring it back to life. Unfortunately for the hodler community, it wasn’t in their favour and the cryptocurrency crashed below $45,500 support, losing more than 5% on the day. It’s stabilised a little today but remains almost 2% lower and below $43,000. The next major support is $40,000, a break of which would be another big blow.

Markets

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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Crude Oil

Oil Extends Gain Above $86 Per Barrel Amid Tight Supply

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Oil

Brent crude oil extended gains above $86.16 per barrel on Monday as global oil investors are projecting that supply will remain tight despite the surge in Libya crude oil production. The increase, they bet would be offset by restraint from top crude oil producers.

Frantic oil buying, driven by supply outages and signs the Omicron coronavirus variant will not be as disruptive to fuel demand as previously feared, has pushed some crude grades to multi-year highs, suggesting the rally in Brent futures could be sustained for a while longer, traders said.

“The bullish sentiment is continuing as (producer group) OPEC+ is not providing enough supply to meet strong global demand,” said Fujitomi Securities analyst Toshitaka Tazawa.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies including Russia, together known as OPEC+, are gradually relaxing output cuts implemented when demand collapsed in 2020.

But many smaller producers cannot raise supply and others have been wary of pumping too much oil in case of renewed COVID-19 setbacks.

Meanwhile, Libya’s total oil output is back to 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd), according to National Oil Corp. Libyan output was about 900,000 bpd last week owing to a blockade of western oilfields.

“Libya’s oil production had dropped to a good 700,000 bpd at the start of the year, which had played its part in the price rise,” said Commerzbank analyst Carsten Fritsch.

Concerns over supply constraints outweighed the news of China’s possible oil release from reserves, said Fujitomi’s Tazawa.

Sources told Reuters that China plans to release oil reserves around the Lunar New Year holidays between Jan. 31 and Feb. 6 as part of a plan coordinated by the United States to reduce global prices.

Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said on Monday that it is the prerogative of the U.S. government whether to release supply from strategic petroleum reserves.

Festering geopolitical threats to supply are also supporting bullish sentiment, analysts said.

U.S. officials voiced fears on Friday that Russia was preparing to attack Ukraine if diplomacy failed. Russia, which has amassed 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s border, released pictures of its forces on the move.

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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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