Crude Oil (WTI) and the Loonie

I realize that after all these years looking at the market, my approach to currencies and global macro has remained quite simple and cyclical. I usually start my day by looking at the USDJPY (and AUDJPY), USDCNH and CSI 300 index charts that [kind of] describe me the overnight session. If I see huge moves in those charts, I know something important has happened in the ‘Est’ during the night that must be read and understood.

Since the beginning of this commodity meltdown (that analysts named ‘The End of the Super-Cycle’), each [bad] news coming from giant China usually had an impact on commodity prices, bringing down commodity currencies and especially the dollar-bloc ones (CAD, AUD and NZD). In today’s article, I will focus on the Canadian Dollar (CAD or Loonie) and how it has reacted to the Oil prices decline over the past year. Since the beginning of 2014, USDCAD (orange line) has appreciated by 33% as the Canadian dollar has been dramatically impacted by the falling prices of oil (WTI, white line) now trading at $32.80 per bbl.

However, as you can see it on the chart below, even though the two underlying assets have been moving ‘together’ [most of the time] over the past year (i.e. lower oil prices implies CAD depreciation versus the US Dollar), the correlation can change over time. For instance, the 5-day correlation between USD and WTI stands now at -90.18%, but have also higher and even positive during small periods of time (mid-January or early December last year).


(Source: Bloomberg)

The reason why I like to watch correlation between assets classes is for the risk management and FX and commodity positioning. I have to admit that since the Fed started to consider shifting towards a tightening monetary policy cycle (i.e. raising interest rates), correlations have been much stronger and being diversified (i.e. not too much exposure to the US Dollar) can be difficult sometimes.

Macro 2: Euro update

After the first part on Japan, the second one will give a current status on the Euro Zone economy and the ECB. As in Japan and US, the deflationary cycle has also been a big issue (the annual HICP inflation rate has been moving around 0% over the past year) due to this commodity meltdown.

QE recap: As you know, Mario Draghi announced in January last year that the Central Bank will start expanding its Balance Sheet. The QE programme, called the Public Sector Purchase Programme (PSPP), started on March 9th 2015 and was first planned to last until September 2016. The purchases will be split between sovereign bonds and securities from European institutions and national agencies, and will amount a total of €60bn worth of bonds each month. As you can see it on the chart below, the announcement was quite a success if we look at the stock market; Eurostoxx 50 Index (candles) went up 28% between January 2015 low and April’s high of 3,836. At the same time, the programme also pushed down the single currency (green line) to 1.05 against the greenback, making the dream of certain EU’s officials come true.


(Source: Bloomberg)

However, it didn’t take too long for the situation to change. The 10Y German Bund yield surged from a low of 4.9bps reached on April 17th to a high of 105bps on June 10th, a net change of 1% in simply 6 weeks. At the same time, the equity market went down 500 points and the Euro surged to 1.15, on rumours that the Fed will lose its ‘patience’ and start a tightening cycle and a weak and irreversible EMU. If we look at the moves on the interest rate market (European sovereign bonds and the single currency) since the famous meeting in May 2014, it is clear that the market’s participants had been front running Draghi on the basic rule of the ECB’s Will To Power. However, the two charts (especially the moves on the German Bunds) describe that this situation can change suddenly, drastically and very quickly.


(Bund 10-year, source Bloomberg)

In order to calm those market moves and restore a new bullish and stable trend in the market, the ECB’s answers were quite limited and combined a few promises (ECB ‘unlimited options’ jawboning, what does it really mean?), with a decrease in the deposit facility rate (from -0.2% to -0.3%) and an extension of the PSPP programme by an extra six months (until the end of March 2017). We saw that the market reacted negatively to those news and the EuroStoxx 50 Index trades now more or less at the same level (3,000  points) than in January last year (in order words, QE failure…).

When it comes to the Euro, there are a few things that fascinate me as it usually concerns more participants than its 19-nation economy. First of all, the chart below shows the deposit rate of the following countries’ central bank:

  • ECB at -0.3% (Blue/White line)
  • Sweden Riksbank at -0.35% (Yellow line)
  • Denmark at -0.65% (Red line)
  • Swiss SNB at -0.75% (Purple line)
  • Norway (Base Rate) at 0.75% (Green Line)

Deposit Rate.PNG

(Source: Bloomberg)

As you can see, all CBs switched to NIRP policies (expect Norway) over the past year to counter this deflationary cycle and sluggish growth; it seems that all other European economies (with Switzerland) have been forced to follow the ECB moves in order to avoid a sharp local currency appreciation (vs. the Euro). Therefore, when you hear about the ECB’s decisions, you must think what will happen to those economies as well (and some Eastern European ones as an extent). We will see what are the consequences and reactions in the near future (12 months) as we know that NIRP policies tend to inflate asset prices ‘artificially’, especially the real estate market (look at Sweden, or Norway for instance), and force banks to pass on the negative carry to their clients (questioning the value of money as it is better to hold money under the mattress than in a negative interest-bearing bank account).

Secondly, the Euro has been reacting positively (and violently) to a few market events, like the August flash crash (EURUSD surged from 1.1365 to 1.1714 in a single trading session on August 24th) or the Draghi’s disappointment on December 3rd (EURUSD went up by 5 figures that day). I am always questioning what can explain that? A first answer could come from the fact that the Euro has become one cheap funding currency, and during periods of stress, the carry unwinds lead to some Euro appreciation. It can explain some strength, but not sure about those drastic moves. Another explanation could be that sometimes, the Euro acts a safe-haven currency. I explained it a couple of articles (here and here), that we have to look at how the market is currently positioned (late correlation with the VIX index).

A quick EURUSD analysis:

At the moment, I visualize the Euro as a ball still full of air that everybody is trying to sink under water. However, everybody’s weight (which can be described as market participants’ view) can change and if it becomes too light, the ball can come up to the surface quite quickly naturally). The EURUSD-pair looks rangy; a strong support stands at 1.07 with a resistance area 1.10 – 1.1050 (100 and 200 SMA) where the bears are waiting to short. One careful thing to watch (and potentially play) is in the upside in case the 1.1050 level is broken; this could trigger many stops and bring the Euro to last year’s highs (1.14 – 1.16).


(Source: Bloomberg)

Macro 1: Japan and Abenomics

I will kick these series of macro updates by an analysis on Japan’s current situation. As you can see it on the chart below, the Nikkei index plummeted 14.50% since December’s high, hitting a low of 16,017 last week (20% drawdown from peak to trough). If we look at the chart below, it seems we entered a bear market in Japan and market participants could still consider the recent spike as quick oversold recovery.


(Source: Bloomberg)

The Yen also reacted to this market headwinds and USDJPY was pushed down to 116 last Wednesday (its August support). One thing that surprises me and captivates me at the same time is the correlation’s strength between all asset classes. For instance, if we look at the chart below shows the moves of Oil (WTI Feb16 contract in yellow) and the SP500 Index (Green line). The amount of pressure that the commodity decline has caused to the overall market is excessive and has put a lot of nations in trouble.

Yen and Rest.jpg

(Source: Bloomberg)

If we have a look at fundamentals, Japan seems to be in a liquidity trap. The BoJ’s balance sheet total asset has surged by 143% [to JPY386tr] since December 2012 and the central bank is currently purchasing 80tr Yen of JGBs every month. It’s has been almost three years that Japan is engaged into a massive stimulus programme, which hasn’t had the expected effect. GDP grew modestly by 0.3% QoQ in the third quarter (avoiding a quintuple-dip recession after a first estimate of -0.2%) and the core inflation rate increased 0.10% YoY in November of 2015, ending a 3-month deflation period but still far from the 2-percent target set by Abe and Kuroda. It is hard to believe that after all the effort (mostly money printing), the situation hasn’t changed much. The question is ‘what would happen if the equity market falls to lower levels and the Yen appreciated further?’ What are Japan’s options?



(Source: Trading economics)

I remember one article I read last October from Alhambra Investment Partners, which was talking about the Japanese QE. The chart below reviews all the QEs implemented since the GFC and how the BoJ reacted each time it had a difficult macro situation (i.e. low inflation, stagnating equities, zero-growth…). As you can see, Japan has constantly increase its QE size little by little until Abe was elected In December 2012 and went all-in by starting its QQME stimulus on April 3rd 2013. As Ray Dalio said in many interviews (when he talks about the Fed), the effect of QE diminishes if credit spreads are already close to zero (and asset prices already ‘inflated’), therefore additional measures will constantly be less effective than in the past (‘central banks have the power to tighten, but very little power to ease’). I believe this is exactly where Japan stands at the moment, giving Abe (and Kuroda and Aso) a harsh time.


(Source: Alhambra Investment Partners)

Another BoJ’s important indicator is the Japanese workers’ real wages, which went back into the negative territory, declining 0.4% YoY in November and marking the first fall since June 2015 according to the Ministry of Finance. Despite PM Abe’s hard work pushing companies to increase wages in order to fuel household consumption, household spending dropped by 2.9% in November and has been contracting most of the months over the past 2 years.


(Source: Trading economics)

With a debt-to-GDP ratio sitting at 230%, one chart I liked that was published in a Bloomberg post showed the ‘growing dominance’ of the BoJ. The central bank held 30.3% of the country’s sovereign debt (as of September 2015), more than any investor class. For instance, the chart below shows the evolution of the holdings of both the BoJ and Financial Institutions (ex. Insurers); at  the start of the QQME, BoJ holdings were 13.2% vs. 42.4% for Financial Institutions. How long can this story continue?


(Source: Bloomberg)


A Euro update ahead of the ECB meeting

As we are in the middle of a market turmoil, with equities down 10 to 15 percent since the beginning of the year, I thought that a quick update on the Euro (and where it is going) could do it. With Eurostoxx index down 12% and peripheral sovereign and financial risk spiking (Banca Monte Paschi di Siena down 60%, trading at 51 cents), markets’ participants are questioning themselves ‘what more could the ECB do?’ Currently on a €60bn bond-purchases program (which duration was extended to March 2017) combined with a NIRP policy (deposit rate at -0.3%), there is not much that Draghi could offer to the market in order to depreciate the single currency to lower levels (parity?) and stabilize the market.

Since the Euro’s recovery when Draghi’s credibility was threatened at the December’s meeting (no increase in the asset purchase programme), EURUSD has been trading sideways over the past 6 weeks within a 350-pip range (1.07 – 1.1050). It looks like the single currency is struggling to break trough the 1.10 strong resistance, and I believe that a lot of bears are waiting to go short around that area. However, I would be cautious on a new disappointing news coming from the ECB that could potentially send EURUSD to new highs. Unless the Governing Council reveals a new plan to stabilize the Euro Zone economy and its stagnating inflation rate (+0.2% in December), there are no main reasons why the Euro should decline drastically tomorrow. One chart that I like to watch when volatility spikes is EURUSD and its correlation with the VIX index. As you can see it on the chart below, the 10-day correlation has moved from 0 to 74% over the past two weeks, with the VIX index trading slightly below 30. I think it could be interesting to watch the overnight session and its impact on tomorrow’s trading session, as we know that the single currency can act as a safe haven asset in periods of high volatility (and low liquidity). The last time was on August 24th as I wrote it in my article EURUSD and VIX last September.


(Source: Bloomberg)

Quick Macro update: China and Commodities

  1. China continues to shake the markets

The first chart that I want to start this analysis is the Shanghai CSI 300 Index (see below), down 40% since its previous high (5,380) reached on June 9th 2015. As you know, news from China has been the major ‘driver’ of the financial market, giving a harsh time for European and US fund managers. The index is approaching the psychological support of 3,000 and its August low of 2,952, two critical levels for the Chinese economy.


(Source: Bloomberg)

The volatility in China (which will affect global markets overall) is coming from its too-leverage banking system, which I believe cannot survive if we enter a Bear market in the EM world. As Kyle Bass from Hayman Capital reported in his late interviews, China bank assets totalled 31tr USD in 2015, up from 5tr USD in 2006 if we look at the chart below. If we express it as a share of the country’s GDP (roughly 10tr USD), the banking system (total assets) is 350%.


(Source: Hayman Capital)

The consequence of a [sharp] decline in equity and property markets will lead to a constant surge in NPLs in the medium term, therefore putting the whole banking system into huge troubles.  Housing starts have fallen by almost 20% in 2015 (based on an average estimates) and the excess of inventory unsold properties have surged dramatically (Standard Chartered estimates the number at 9 million, with a further 40m to 50m homes being held vacant as investments). This is clearly problematic as it is widely known that China’s household wealth is mostly concentrated in housing, which account for 15% of the country’s GDP. To give you an idea, the 2003-08 housing market in the US represented barely 5% of the US GDP.

I believe that China is poised to print constantly lower-than-expected GDP growth rates due to this instability, therefore being the main risk factor for global markets in 2016 (Q4 GDP came in at 6.8% QoQ vs. 6.9% est.). One interesting chart to look at this year is the USDCNH – USDCNY spread analysis. Since the PBoC devaluation, we can see that spread off the offshore/onshore currencies has been very volatile, moving up to 1400 pips (i.e. USDCNH was trading at 1400 pips above USDCNY).


(Source: Bloomberg)

2. Commodities update: where is the low? 

As I gave a quick [bearish] review on China, I have to give an update on commodities, which are still trying to find a new low. As you can see it in the chart below, the Bloomberg Commodity Index (BCOM) broke below its March-99 low of 74.24 yesterday and is down almost 70% since its July 2008 high. I wouldn’t see this new low as a buying opportunity as long as I don’t visualize any upside coming from the EM economies.


(Source: Bloomberg)

The end of this commodity super-cycle is dramatically hurting many energy companies, and corporate default is clearly becoming the biggest financial threat for this year. For instance, Glencore 2021 and Noble 2018 bond price recently plummeted to new lows yesterday, trading at 64.4 and 56 cents on the par and increasing the probability of bankruptcy.

3. The death of the commodity currencies… 

This commodity meltdown has sent the Aussie (candles) to (almost) a seven-year low against the dollar, trading at 69 cents against the dollar, and the USDCAD (yellow line) has reached a 12.5-year low and is currently trading at 1.4530, down 25% in a single year. I will always remember Stanley Druckenmiller words from the Ira Sohn Conference in May 2013 when he talked about the Commodities Conundrum. He said he was betting that it was the end of the ‘supercycle’ for commodities (referring commodity currencies as ‘dead’) and he was already warning of a potential financial crisis in China. I have to admit that I would never have imagined such a drawdown; however, today I am still thinking there is potential downside risks.


(Source: Bloomberg)

Just to let you know, this article is just a quick-start of a series of more detailed analysis of economic areas (Japan, US and Euro), coming up in the next couple of weeks.