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Sell-Off on Hold Amid More Talks

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

The sell-off is on hold on Wednesday as investors regroup following another big move lower a day earlier.

European stocks are paring gains and the US has kicked things off in a similar fashion with energy naturally leading the way. I’m not sure broader market sentiment has improved in any way since yesterday given the intensification of the invasion of Ukraine and soaring oil prices but equity markets are seeing some reprieve.

There is mild hope that talks between the Ukrainian and Russian delegates can make some headway but I wouldn’t go as far as to say there’s optimism. The gulf between the demands of the two countries is enormous and the actions being taken by Russia in the midst of the negotiations are utterly horrific. Not exactly the foundations for a compromise.

The sanctions being imposed by the West are no doubt having an effect though and Russia is becoming increasingly isolated from much of the rest of the world. The combination of severe sanctions and public outrage is resulting in a corporate backlash against Russia which will compound the pain for the economy and the Kremlin.

Record euro area inflation ahead of ECB next week

It’s so easy to forget this week just how busy the normal calendar is and how impactful that would typically be for the markets. This morning we’ve seen euro area inflation hit another all-time high in February, once again topping expectations and nudging yields higher across the bloc.

The situation in Ukraine throws another spanner in the works for central banks at a time when the job of reining in inflation while not derailing the recovery from the pandemic was already proving challenging enough. Soaring energy prices and other unintended consequences of Russian sanctions could make life a lot harder again.

Nothing new from Powell and unreliable ADP beats expectations

Powell’s testimony to the House Financial Services Committee contained no surprises, with the Fed Chair highlighting the risks to the economy from inflation, the likelihood of an increase at the next meeting followed shortly after by balance sheet reduction, and finally, the uncertainty around the invasion of Ukraine. All in all, we’ve learned nothing.

The ADP data gets minimal attention these days and the revision to last month’s number highlights why. Job growth in February was 475,000, almost 100,000 higher than anticipated while last month was revised up from -301,000 to +509,000. It makes it hard to read too much into the data, especially ahead of Friday’s jobs report and against the current backdrop.

OPEC+ displays little appetite for lower prices

Oil prices are surging once again today and have topped $110 as reports of disruptions to Russian exports as a result of the sanctions emerge. This is something that was already being priced into the markets prior to and after the invasion and the severity of the sanctions have justified those moves. As the details of the sanctions become clear, some of those issues may be resolved considering they have been designed to disrupt flows as little as possible, but they will continue to be impacted.

And at a time when the market is already extremely tight, something OPEC+ still seems unwilling to acknowledge after leaving planned increases unchanged again in April. Not that this matters enormously as they’re missing those targets by an increased margin each month so what reason is there to believe that increasing it would dramatically impact that? Unless certain members utilize some of that spare capacity.

Gold pares gains but has $2,000 in its sights

Gold is pulling back again on Wednesday after peaking at around $1,950 on Tuesday in risk-averse trade. It’s off less than 1% so far today but the trend remains very much in place. Inflation and risk-aversion are the perfect environments for the yellow metal and we’re seeing plenty of both at the moment, which is unlikely to change.

The question is how far it can go. Ultimately, that will depend on how long the invasion of Ukraine lasts and how severe the sanctions against Russia become. At the moment, it’s looking like a case of when it will hit $2,000 rather than if but a sudden and unexpected ceasefire would surely change that. One can only hope.

Bitcoin extends gains

Bitcoin is making strides higher for a third day as the crisis in Ukraine and Russian sanctions present an opportunity for cryptocurrencies to show their worth. Whether that’s through positive means such as donations to the Ukrainian defence efforts or preservation of capital for ordinary Russians – a rare exception when it could be argued that crypto can be a relative store of value – or something more sordid such as subverting sanctions. Cryptos are displaying a use-case in recent days and that’s being reflected in the price, both from related demand and no doubt speculation on the back of it.

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Markets

Another Turbulent Day

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

It’s been another turbulent session after stock markets turned sharply lower on Wednesday as investors fret over the outlook for the economy this year.

Results from Walmart and Target this week have brought into sharp focus the plight facing companies and consumers as inflation begins to bite. And that’s in a country that is still performing relatively strongly with a consumer that still has plenty of savings built up over the last couple of years. Others are not in such a fortunate position.

But inflation is catching up and profit margins are taking a hit. Soon enough though, those higher costs will continue to be passed on and consumers will stop dipping into savings and start being more careful with their spending. There’s a feeling of inevitability about the economy, the question is whether we’re going to see a slowdown or a recession.

The language we’re seeing from Fed officials isn’t filling me with confidence either. We’ve gone from them being confident of a soft landing, to a softish landing and even a safe landing, as per Patrick Harker’s comments on Wednesday. I’m not sure who exactly will be comforted by this, especially given the Fed’s recent record on inflation and past record on soft landings.

And it seems investors aren’t buying it either. A combination of these factors and no doubt more has sent equity markets into another tailspin, with Wall Street registering another big day of losses on Wednesday and poised for another day in the red today. Europe, meanwhile, is also seeing substantial losses between 1% and 2%.

Oil slips as economic concerns weigh

Those economic concerns are filtering through to the oil market which is seeing the third day of losses, down a little more than 1% today. We were bound to see some form of demand destruction if households continued to be squeezed from every angle and it seems we may be seeing that expectation weigh a little as we move into the end of the week.

Meanwhile, China is reportedly looking to take advantage of discounted Russian crude to top up its reserves in a move that somewhat undermines Western sanctions. Although frankly, it would have been more surprising if they and others not involved in them didn’t explore such a move at a time of soaring oil prices.

Still, I expect Brent and WTI will remain very high for the foreseeable future, boosted by the inability of OPEC+ to deliver on its targets and the Chinese reopening.

Gold buoyed by recession fears?

Gold appears to be finally seeing some safe-haven flows as markets react strongly to the threat of recession rather than just higher interest rate expectations. The latter has driven yields higher and made the dollar more attractive while the economic woes they contribute to seem more suited to gold inflows, it seems.

It will be interesting to see how markets react in the coming weeks if the investor mindset has turned from fear of higher rates to the expectation of a significant slowdown or recession. And what that would mean for interest rate expectations going forward. Perhaps we could see gold demand return.

Can bitcoin continue to swim against the tide?

Bitcoin is holding up surprisingly well against the backdrop of such pessimism in the markets. Perhaps because it’s fueled by economic concern rather than simply interest rates. Either way, it’s still trading below $30,000 but crucially it’s not currently in freefall as we’re seeing with the Nasdaq. Whether it can continue to swim against the sentiment tide, time will tell.

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Inflation Hits 40-Year High

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

European equity markets are a little flat on Wednesday, with inflation data this morning once again offering a reminder of the struggles that lie ahead.

Not that we need reminding given all of the data we’ve seen recently. And then there are the gloomy forecasts from central banks, with even the Fed now targeting a softish landing which feels very much like the stage before a mild recession. It may be time to buckle up and prepare for a very bumpy year.

Will BoE move to super-sized rate hikes?

UK inflation is running at a 40-year high and it’s not peaked yet as the cost-of-living crisis looks set to squeeze the economy into recession. While annual inflation came in slightly below expectations at 9%, pressures are broad-based and as the year progresses, it is expected to hit double figures.

There is still plenty more pain to come for households, most notably when the energy price cap increases again in October. But price increases are broad-based, as evident in the jump in core inflation to 6.2%. This comes as the Bank of England has warned of more pain and a probable recession, as it continues to aggressively raise interest rates in the hope of being able to catch up without inflicting too much harm in the process.

Like many other central banks, it has been heavily criticised for its misjudged faith in pandemic-induced inflation being transient for too long. And in the UK’s case, the problem looks far greater and more widespread, with Brexit effects compounding the problems and driving up prices. Can the BoE afford to continue raising rates so gradually, as markets expect with 25 basis points every meeting or will they be forced to join their US counterparts with super-sized hikes? Pressure is mounting.

Oil higher as China starts reopening

Oil prices are on the rise again as Shanghai takes a big step towards reopening following three days of no new cases in the broader community. Restrictions have been tight in many cities across China which have helped keep a lid on oil prices in this very tight market. But with activity now likely to pick up, crude prices could be on the rise once more.

Efforts toward a Russian oil embargo have failed, with Hungary continuing to stand in the way. That could be slowing the rally in oil still, as could US talks with Venezuela which may eventually lead to additional supply. Although ultimately, this comes at a time when major producers simply aren’t producing as much as they should. Russia saw its output fall by another 9% last month as a result of sanctions, which contributed to OPEC+ producing 2.6 million barrels below target, lifting compliance with cuts from 157% to 220%.

Gold looking shaky once more

Gold is a little lower on Wednesday, as the dollar strengthens once more following a few days of declines. We’ve seen a slight corrective move in the greenback which has eased some of the pressure on the yellow metal but we may be seeing that return already. Gold is currently trading a little over $1,800 and a break of it could trigger another wave lower as investors continue to factor in more interest rate hikes and therefore higher yields.

The path of least resistance

With risk aversion starting to creep back in, bitcoin finds itself back below $30,000 which may make some a little nervous. It was always going to be difficult for risk assets to significantly build on the rally in the current environment. What may be encouraging to some is that we haven’t seen a sharp reaction to the move back below such a key level. Of course, that could quickly change with below appearing to offer the path of least resistance.

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Further Pressure on Central Banks

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

It’s been a relatively calm start to trading this week, with Europe a mixed bag at the close and the US a little lower.

The weaker Chinese figures overnight will be of some concern at a time of slowing economic activity around the world. Still, as has been the case so often in recent years, the lockdowns will have heavily distorted the data. With lockdowns priced in to an extent, the key will be how quickly restrictions are lifted and then how well the economy bounces back.

Stock markets have come under heavy pressure globally as central banks have been forced to become part of the problem rather than the solution, as has so often been their job in the past. We’ve become very used to easy monetary conditions but now we have a devastating combination of a cost-of-living crisis, looming recession, very high inflation and much higher interest rates.

And as we’re hearing so often now, policymakers understand the pain that households are feeling and will experience going forward but getting inflation back under control is the primary focus. Which means further pain ahead.

The BoE monetary policy report hearing reflected everything we’ve heard in recent weeks as the UK heads for recession and double-digit inflation. Bailey and his colleagues accept how bad the situation in the UK is and the scale of the task at hand but whether they’re doing enough to address it is hard to say. They were among the first to start hiking late last year but have still been criticised for starting too late.

Oil near recent highs after falling on Chinese data

Oil prices have recovered earlier losses that came in the wake of the Chinese figures. While lockdowns have been priced in over the weeks, the numbers were much worse than expected which weighed heavily on crude. While an EU ban on Russian oil suffered another setback as Hungary stood firm against it, the bloc is continuing to work on an agreement while Germany is reportedly planning to phase it out regardless, which could be helping to support prices today.

Oil is trading around $110, towards the upper end of where it’s traded over the last couple of months. China looking to ease restrictions could keep prices more elevated having contributed to them trading at more reasonable levels. A move above $115 in Brent would be interesting, with that having been something of a ceiling for rallies over the last couple of months.

Gold flat but remains under pressure

Gold is flat on the day after slipping this morning below $1,800 for the second time in as many sessions. The yellow metal has been very vulnerable to rising yields and a stronger dollar recently as central banks are forced into much more aggressive action. With the dollar remaining a hot favourite and pressure intensifying on central banks to tackle inflation, gold could remain out of favour for a while yet.

Bitcoin struggles at $30,000

An impressive rebound in bitcoin after breaking $30,000 may already have run its course, with the cryptocurrency giving up earlier gains to trade a little lower on the day. It’s spent a little time over the last couple of days above $30,000 but it is struggling to hang on to them. That doesn’t bode well at a time of risk aversion in the markets and such negative coverage of stablecoins following the Terra collapse. There may be more pain ahead.

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