Rising US corporate default rates during a tightening monetary policy cycle

In this study, we mainly focus on the refinancing issues that US [non-financial] companies will face within the next five years as a lot of corporations are trading at a distressed price (or yield) due to the lack of global growth and low commodity prices. In the first session, we review the US credit market structure. Then, the second session introduces a two-state Markov switching model (Hamilton, 1989), followed by a presentation of the paper Corporate bond default risk: a 150-year perspective (Giesecke & al., 2011), a study that uses a set of macroeconomic and financial variables to forecast default rates in the US. In the third Section, we comment the potential change in the explanatory variables since 2009 and we discuss a solution to avoid a new clustered default event over the next five years.

Link ==> Studies on Corporate Defaults

FX positioning ahead of the September FOMC meeting

As of today, most market participants are getting prepared [and positioned] for the FOMC meeting on September 20/21st in order to see if policymakers stick with their Jackson-Hole hints, therefore I think it is a good time to share my current FX positioning.

Fed’s meeting: hike or no-hike?

I think that one important point investors were trying to figure out the last Jackson Hole Summit last week was to know if US policymakers were considering starting [again] their monetary policy tightening cycle after a [almost] 1-year halt. If we look at the FedWatch Tool available in CME Group website, the probability of a 25bps rate hike in September stands now at 18% based on a 30-day Fed Fund futures price of 99.58 (current contract October 2016, implied rate is 42bps).

CME.png

(Source: CME Group)

In addition, if we look at the Eurodollar futures market, the December Contract trades at 99.08, meaning the market is pricing a 1% US Dollar rate by the end of the year. We can clearly notice that the market expects some action coming from US policymakers within the next few months. However, recent macroeconomic data have shown signs of deterioration in the US that could potentially put the rate hike on hold for another few months. Following last week disappointing manufacturing ISM data that came out at 49.4 below its expansion level (50), ISM Service dropped to 51.4, its lowest number since February 2010 and has been dramatically declining since mid-2015. I strongly believe that there are both important indicators to watch, especially when they are flirting with the expansion/recession 50-level. We can see in the chart below that the ISM manufacturing PMI (white line) tracks really ‘well’ the US Real GDP (Annual YoY, yellow line), and as equity markets tend to do poorly in periods of recession we can say that the ISM Manufacturing / Services can potentially predict sharp drawdowns in equities.

Chart 1. ISM – blue and white – and Real US GDP Annual YoY – yellow line (Source: Bloomberg)

ISM_US.JPG

Another disappointment came from the Job market with Non-Farm Payrolls dropping back below the 200K level (it came out at 151K for August vs. 180K expected) and slower earnings growth (average hourly earnings increased by 2.4% YoY in August, lower than the previous month’s annual pace of 2.7%).

This accumulation of poor macro figures halted the US Dollar gains we saw during the J-Hole Summit and it seems that the market is starting to become more reluctant to a rate hike in September. The Dollar Index (DXY) is trading back below 95 and the 10-year rate is on its way to hit its mid-August 1.50% support (currently trades at 1.54%). What is interesting to analyse is which currency will benefit most from this new Dollar Weakness episode.

FX positioning

USDJPY: After hitting a high of 104.32 on Friday, the pair is once again poised to retest its 100 psychological support in the next few days. This is clearly a nightmare for Abe and Kuroda as the Yen has strengthen by almost 20% since its high last June (125.85). If we have a look at the chart below, the trend looks clearly bearish at the moment and longs should consider putting a tight top at 105. I would stay short USDJPY as I don’t see any aggressive response from the BoJ until the next MP meeting on September 21st.

Chart 2. USDJPY candlesticks (Source: Bloomberg)

USDJPY.JPG

EURUSD: Another interesting move today is the EURUSD 100-SMA break out, the pair is currently trading at 1.1240 and remains on its one-year range 1.05 – 1.15. As a few articles pointed out recently, the ECB has been active in the market since March 2015 and has purchased over 1 trillion government and corporate bonds. The balance sheet total assets now totals 3.3 trillion Euros (versus 4 trillion EUR for the Fed), an indicator to watch as further easing announced by Draghi will tend to weigh on the Euro in the long run. The ECB meets in Frankfurt on Thursday and the market expect an extension of the asset purchases beyond March 2017 (by 6 to 9 months). I don’t see a further rate cut (to -0.5%) or a boost in the asset purchase program for the moment, therefore I don’t think we will see a lot of volatility in the coming days. I wouldn’t take an important position in the Euro, however I can see EURUSD trading above 1.13 by Thursday noon.

Chart 3. EURUSD and Fibonacci retracements (Source: Bloomberg)

eur

Another important factor EU policymakers will have to deal with in the future is lower growth and inflation expectations. The 2017 GDP growth expectation decreased to 1.20% (vs. 1.70% in the beginning of the year) and the 5y/5y forward inflation expectation rate is still far below the 2-percent target (it stands currently at 1.66% according to FRED).

Sterling Pound: New Trend, New Friend? The currency that raised traders’ interest over the past couple of weeks has been the British pound as it was considered oversold according to many market participants. Cable is up 5% since its August low (1.2866) and is approaching its 1.35 resistance. I would try to short some as I think many traders will try to lock in their profit soon which could slow down the Pound appetite in the next few days. If 1.35 doesn’t hold, then it may be interesting to play to break out with a new target at 1.3600.

Chart 4. GBPUSD and its 1.35 resistance (Source: Bloomberg)

GBP.JPG

I would short some (GBPUSD) with a tight stop loss at 1.3520 and a target at 1.3350. No action expected from the BoE on September 15th, Carney is giving the UK markets some ‘digestion’ time after the recent action (rate cut + QE).

USDCHF: For the Swissie, my analysis stands close to the Yen’s one, and therefore I think the Swiss Franc strength could continue in the coming days. I like 0.96 as a first ‘shy’ target, and I would look at the 0.9550 level if the situation remains similar (poor macro and quiet vol) in the short term.

AUDUSD: Australia, as many other commodity countries (Canada, New Zealand), remains in a difficult situation as the deterioration of the terms of trade will tend to force RBA policymakers to move towards a ZIRP policy. However, lower rates will continue to inflate housing prices, which continue to grow at a two-digit rate. According to CoreLogic, house prices averaged 10-percent growth over the past year, with Sydney and Melbourne up 13% and 13.9%, respectively. Australian citizens are now leverage more than ever; the Household debt-to-GDP increased from 70% in the beginning of the century to 125% in Q4 2015 (see chart below). This is clearly unsustainable over the long-run, which obviously deprives policymakers to lower rates too ‘quickly’ to counter disinflation. As expected, the RBA left its cash rate steady at 1.50% today, which will play in favor of the Aussie in the next couple of weeks. One interesting point as well is that the Aussie didn’t react to an interest rate cut on August 2nd, something that Governor Glenn Stevens will have to study in case policymakers want to weaken the currency. There is still room on the upside for AUDUSD, first level stands at 0.7750.

Australia.png

(Source: Trading Economics)

Chinese Yuan: The Renminbi has been pretty shy over the past two month, USDCNH has been ranging between 6.62 and 6.72. The onshore – offshore spread is now close to zero as you can see it on the chart below (chart on the bottom). I don’t see any volatility rising in the next few weeks, therefore I wouldn’t build a position in that particular currency.

Chart 5. CNY – CNH spread analysis (Source: Bloomberg)

CNH spread.JPG

 To conclude, I think that we are going to see further dollar weakness ahead of the FOMC September meeting as practitioners will start to [re]consider a rate hike this time, especially if fundamentals keep being poor in the near future.

Quick update on China ahead of the FOMC meeting…

Ahead of the FOMC meeting this week, I thought a quick update on China would be useful to review the major data on a global macro perspective.

Over the past few years, Chinese slowdown has massively impacted commodity prices, which are still ‘trying’ to find a bottom according to the late analysis I read. The chart below shows the historical moves of the Bloomberg Commodity Index (BCOM), a broadly diversified commodity price index (22 commodity futures in seven different sectors) that I like to watch quite a bit. As you can see it, the index has been trading below the 2009 lows since the beginning of the year and is now approaching the 2002 levels.

Commodity

(Source: Financial Times)

If we look at Iron Ore monthly prices for instance (see chart below), we can see that the commodity has lost more than three times its value since its high in February 2011. It fell from 187.18 (US Dollars per Dry Metric Ton) at that time to 56.40 (for the September 2015 Futures contract). There has been a few topics on the table that could have describe this drop – US rising rates and Dollar strength, Grexit fear, Oversupply issues – however the decrease in Chinese growth and productivity are the most important factors to the commodity market in general.

Iron Ore

(Source: indexmundi website)

How fast is China slowing?

First of all, if we look at the country’s annual growth rate over the past five years, China GDP decreased from approximately 12% in early 2010 to 7% in the last Q2 update. And looking at the major’s institution forecasts (IMF, World Bank, see below), it is more than likely that we are going to see lower and lower figures in the next few years, and therefore constantly weigh on export-driven economies. Based on the forecasts below, we are looking at a 5.5%-6% annual growth rate in 3 to 5 years.

ChinaGDP

(Source: knoema website)

Salaries increase in China, a secular change?

For decades, China has mostly been competitive based on its cheap labour and low-cost raw materials, and has been profitable based on its export-driven economy combined with an ‘undervalued’ exchange rate. However, with wages and transportation costs on the rise, the country’s economic projection has changed and I don’t know if the rest of the World is yet prepared for it. According to some financial analyst experts, compare to the mid-2000 levels, China needs twice the amount of Capital or Debt to create a 1-percent growth today.

Based on the International Labour Organization’s 2014 Wage report for the Asia Pacific published at the end of the first quarter of this year, Asia annual growth in real wages has been outperforming the global average over the past decade (6.0% vs. 2.0% in 2013). And East Asia (driven by China) reported at 7.1% increase in 2013, therefore indicating a growing consumer spending power. And between 1998 and 2010, the average annual growth rate of real wages were approximately 13.8% (Carsten A Holtz, 2014). Since 2010, real wages have grown by 9%, outperforming productivity which has grown by 6-7%, therefore reflecting negative signs about the economy.

Availability of a large pool of labour combined with low production costs have been one of the major pros of China, however the constant increase in labour costs will narrow the difference in manufacturing costs between China and a developed economy (such as the US) to a degree that is almost negligible.

As a result, no hike in September…

My view goes for a neutral FOMC statement this week, but no hikes from the Fed based on the weak current market’s conditions. If we look at it, we have more and more EM countries facing a currency crisis (Brazil, Russia, Malaysia…), low oil prices affecting highly leveraged US Shale oil companies, US debt ceiling ‘threat’ at the end of the month, China selling its USD FX reserves, US equities showing a sign of fatigue… These are all negative elements that the US policymakers will take into account at the September meeting (16th / 17th of September). The upside for currencies such as the Euro, the Swiss or the Sterling pound will be quite limited until the release of the FOMC Statement, however we could see some Dollar weakness in case of a status quo.

June rate hike? What Yellen (and the Fed) faces…

I have to admit that by just looking at the government bond yields (see appendix), I am asking myself a lot of questions about the stability of the economy and the financial markets. However, one particular point that matters the most is the Fed’s June rate hike.

Therefore, this article aims to give an update on the four major risks that can lift-off the central bank’s monetary policy decision for later this year, which are the following topics:

  • China slowdown
  • Dollar strength
  • Oil prices
  • Grexit: Greece and all its 2015 payments
  1. China Slowdown

It is clear that commodity prices have dropped dramatically over the past year based on a lower than expected Chinese growth (i.e. global demand). If we look at the last figures, analysts expect China to grow by approximately 7% in 2015, down from the last 7.5% projection (in late 2014). Last week, we saw that the economic output grew 7% YoY in the three months of 2015, down from 7.3% in Q4 last year and now standing at its slowest rate in six years. What really concerns me is that I read several times the word ‘approximately’ in analysts predictions of China 2015 growth, this means that we could see an actual lower than 7% figure, especially in the middle of this geopolitical war.

In the housing market, it looks like the economy is experiencing a sort of ‘real’ correction: if we look at on of Chinese Housing Market ‘benchmark’ – China 70-city Home price change – the last report showed that house prices decreased 6.1% YoY in March, its eighth negative print in a row and the biggest drop in history.

It is hard to believe that after a 15tr USD increase in total Chinese Bank assets since September 2008, the economy is still struggling to achieve a healthy growth. The obvious response from Beijing officials was to cut its Reserve Requirements Ratio by 1% to 18.5% (last one was a 50bp cut in early February), ‘flooding the market’ with liquidity and participating – like the rest of the World – to this massive monetary stimulus.

What the PoBC cut a sort of ‘preparation’ to the Fed’s action?

Maybe I know too little about the Chinese economy (and history), but it is curious too see that some financial experts have a totally different interpretation of China.

For instance, in the last discussion that I had with a (very) experienced economist, I asked him ‘Where do you see the most interesting opportunities at the moment for medium term investments?’

He answered me: ‘Well, there are three countries you should invest in: China, China and China!’ He started his quick analysis about the massive internal migration of young new dwellers moving from rural to towns and cities (between 10 and 20 million each year according to NBS). Chinese major cities will host approximately 60% of the country’s total population (permanent urban residents) by 2020 (slightly above 50% now), therefore playing in favor of Chinese Fixed assets, companies’ valuation,… However, I was asking myself: ‘What about work conditions and salary increase? We learned from the last GFC that you can’t reach a sustainable economy with a divergence between median annual incomes and home prices. In addition, you can’t build a strong economy based on speculative stories and artificial growth (look at the Spanish situation now after the correction in the housing market).

Moreover, this scenario was based on a strong assumption that relations between China and the US remain stable (i.e. no pressure from the West to abolish the exchange rate peg). This is clearly not obvious, especially in this new (sort of) Cold War between East and West. If we look at the US Treasury website, we can see that China has reduced its US Treasuries by 50bn USD over the past year (its US holdings stand at 1.224Tr USD as of February). If this trend continues, pressure from US officials to drop the peg will be more and more a serious debate.

Besides that digression, it seems that we are going to see some downward revision in China, which will obviously be a persistent topic at the next FOMC statements.

  1. Dollar strength

The topic that I love to discuss is the Dollar strength. Described as the most crowded trade of the year, it is clear that a constant strengthening greenback will be problematic for the US economy, especially now that the Fed has stepped out of the bond market. Even though we saw a sharp reduction of the government’s deficit in the last two fiscal years (the annual US budget deficit fell from 1.1tr USD for FY12 to 483bn USD for FY2014 as you can see it in the chart below – equivalent to 2.8% of the country’s GDP), the US still runs large current account deficits (coming from consistent trade deficits) which forces them to rely on external funding.

USdeficit

(Source: WSJ)

A strong dollar wouldn’t help to ‘redress’ the balance of trade (i.e. exports are less competitive), and will obviously decline companies’ sales and reduce the economic output. Pessimist Atlanta Fed forecast a zero-percent growth for the first three months of this year, down from 1.9% in early February. The market is more bullish anticipating a 1.4% rise.

The July Fed Funds Futures implied rate is at 15bp, while September and December are trading at 21bp and 34.5bp respectively. From that perspective, I will opt for a September move (vs. June).

  1. Oil prices

As you know, oil prices fell sharply in the second half of last year, bringing to an end a four-year period of stability around $105 per barrel. If we look back at prices’ history since the early 80s, there has been four other relevant declines prior to this one:

  • Increase in oil supply and change in OPEC policy (1985-86)
  • US recessions after the S&L crisis in 1990-1
  • The Asian crisis of 1997
  • The Great Financial Crisis 2007 – 2008

Today, the causes of the Sharp Drop could be explained by multiple factors: a change in OPEC policy objectives (no intervention from Saudi Arabia in the last OPEC meeting on November 27th last year), increasing production (US Production of Crude Oil now stands above 9ml barrel/day, up from 5ml 7 years ago post GFC), receding geopolitical concerns about supply disruptions in the Middle East and between Russia and Ukraine, a sinking global demand and a US dollar appreciation. It is hard to define which of these factors was the most important, however I would say the expansion of oil output in North American due to the US Shale revolution (and Canada oil sands) and a declining global demand both weighed on oil prices.

Although low oil prices (and other commodities) is seen as a sort of stimulus for consumers by analysts, I am very confident that it is also the explanation of the late decrease in inflation expectations in all the Western countries. The table below shows you the Consumer Price Index of the major economies:

Country

March

July

US

-0.10%

2.00%

UK

-0.10%

0.40%

EZ

0.00%

1.60%

Japan

2.2% (February)

3.40%

Even the 5y/5y forward swap rate, what central banks watch as an indication of inflation expectations, has fallen to unprecedented sub-2 percent levels in the US, which is going to be problematic as Yellen and (most of) the Fed’s Board have considered that it is time for monetary policy tightening – the so-called neutrality.

In addition, low oil prices could also be a burden for all the high leveraged shale oil companies in the US. The chart below (source Bloomberg) gives us a quick idea of where oil prices have to stand so that shale companies are (at least) breakeven. According to the sell side research, breakeven prices for US shale oil are within the $60-$65 window. WTI May futures contract is still trading below those figures at a shy $56.

ShaleBreakeven

(Source: Bloomberg)

  1. Grexit and the contagion effect

With the 10-year yield now trading at 13% (and the 2Y at 29%), it is clear that the market is anticipating disappointing negotiations between the new Greek party and the Troika. There are lots of good articles that came out lately about Greek’s situation, but that could easily be summarize by the chart below. This clearly shows that there are going to be a lot of meetings with European officials before the Summer, and the Tsipras government will have to innovate its list of reforms in order to free up funds and service its short-term obligations.

GreeceInSHort

(Source: IMF)

What’s next then? Let’s assume Greece makes it way through the summer (the two 3bn+ payments to the ECB) without catching a cold, this is only the 2015 chart and there are plenty of more years to come. No borrowing from the financial market and an unstoppable increasing debt (see article Pocketful of Miracles). A situation that could only deteriorate in my opinion…

In the latest news, Bloomberg reported that the Greek government issued a legislative act yesterday that requires public sector entities to transfer idle cash reserves to Bank of Greece (i.e. capital controls) as the country is willing to serve its next €1bn debt obligations to the IMF next month.

To conclude, we may see a symbolic 25bp hike at the June FOMC meeting, however I am certain that we are far from the so-called long-run neutrality rate of 3.5%-4%. If the weak global macro environment persists in the medium term, we are constantly going to see downward revision in the Fed’s dot plot.

Appendix: Government bond yields

BondYields

Post FOMC Analysis, Dollar Flash Crashes…

This week has been full of macro events (four central banks meetings – BoJ, Norges Bank, SNB and the Fed), however all eyes were on the FOMC statement that came up yesterday. Dovish stance from Yellen in addition to 2015 forecasts revised on the downside created Dollar ‘Flash Crashes’, with the FX market completely out of control. The US Dollar index was trading around 100 yesterday morning, then went down from 99.50 to 98.00 after the FOMC, and eventually ‘flash-crashed’ after the US close. EURUSD (and Cable) soared by 400 pips (and 500 pips) to 1.1040 (and 1.5160 respectively), USDCHF down 4 figures as well down to 0.9620. The yen was less reactive (which clearly shows the declining Yen Pavlovian response the risk-off environment, USDJPY went down ‘only’ 200 pips to 119.30.

To review the FOMC statement briefly, the Committee revised down all 2015 forecasts since the previous Summary of Economic Projections (SEP) released on December 17 last year. The median dot plot for year end 2015 decreased from 1.125% to 0.625% (down by 50 pips). In addition, looking at the Fed’s dot plot for the year 2016 and 2017, we can see that the median dot for 2016 fell to 1.875% in March (vs. 2.5%) and decline to 3.125% from 3.625% for 2017.

FOMC DOT plot

 (Source: Fed’s website)

Furthermore, if we look at the table below which shows the advance release of the SEP, we can see that the central tendency for GDP this year was decreased to 2.3%-2.7% (from 2.3% – 2.7%), PCE inflation (the inflation measure watched by the Fed as the PCE index covers a wide range of household spending) went down to 0.6% – 0.8%, compared to 1.0% – 1.6% three months ago.

FED Forecasts

(Source: Federal Reserve’s website)

While the Dollar has been recovering all day (especially during Asia, USD index now trades back at 99.40, with EURUSD back down to 1.0660, USDCHF up to 0.9910, Cable down to 1.4740 and USDJPY at 120.80), the market is still a bit ‘stress’ with all core bond yields trading to lower levels (See appendix, Bund at 19bps, US 10Y at 1.95% or UK Gilt at 1.52%) and peripheral EZ bonds trading higher than yesterday’s levels.

As a result, the equity market (S&P500) is back on track after a quick 70-point bear consolidation as I was looking for (see tweet @LFXYvan on Feb 26). If we look at the chart below, we can see that the 100 SMA has acted as a sort of support where the market found some potential buyers-on-dips. Over the past few months, it looks like if the 100 SMA didn’t hold, the 200 SMA was doing the rest of the job (except in mid-October).

SP500

(Source: FXCM)

Even though the equity has lost a bit of ‘power’ since the Fed stepped out of the bond market at the end of October last year (the bear consolidation are becoming more and more recurrent), I still believe there is some potential room on the upside based on yesterday’s comments and readjustments.

I am curious to know how the US policymakers will play the rate hike within the next few months (will there be one in June?), as even if the job market has continued to show some strong figures with a NFP report at 295K in February and an unemployment rate at 5.5% (close to full employment according to economists), there has been a lots a disappointing macro figures. See list below with all the misses in just the past month…

Misses US

 (Source: ZeroHedge)

Earlier today, the SNB left its deposit rate negative at -0.75% and jawboned a bit about the recent CHF appreciation. EURCHF is trading at 1.0550, down 2.5 figures in the past month and potentially ‘hurting’ the Swiss economy (Swiss is also part of the ‘Currency War’ party). Norway unexpectedly left its interest rates unchanged and signalled in its report that another cut was planned to protect the Norwegian economy from the plunge in oil prices. The NOK rocketed against the greenback earlier today, down from 8.37 to 8.07 on this hawkish surprise. As a reminder, Oil (and gas) generate more than 20% of Norway’s output, and the country may be in difficulty if this low-oil-price era persists. Norway may have to ‘tap’ into their sovereign wealth funds – Government Pension Fund Global – (approx. $850bn) in order to support their annual budgets this year. However, the maximum that the government could spend from oil revenue is 4% of the fund (by law).

Otherwise, no surprise from Japan and the BoJ stood firm on Tuesday, leaving its monetary policy unchanged (80tr Yen of asset purchases annually, mostly JGBs), even though policymakers acknowledged that prices might start falling in the coming months. Consumer prices in Japan rose 2.4% YoY in January, the same as the previous two months and down from 3.7% in April last year.

 Appendix: Bonds yields…

BBG

 (Source: Bloomberg)

A CB surprise…

After October 15th last year, yesterday was another insane day in the market. We know approximately the impact of a lower (or higher) NFP report on the US dollar or a lower (resp. higher) than expected EZ inflation rate on Euro bonds; however when the surprise comes from a central bank, we saw the consequences…
But first, I am going to have just one quick digression before going for it, concerning the OMT.

OMT is legal

Almost a year ago, the German Federal Constitutional Court (GFCC) found ECB’s OMT bond-buying program illegal and incompatible with EU and German law. Given that the GFCC only has jurisdiction on matters of German domestic law, it decided to leave judgement to the European Court of Justice (ECJ). In his Opinion on Wednesday, the Advocate General Cruz Villalon observed that the program is compatible with the EU Law and that the ‘objectives are in principle legitimate and on consonant with monetary policy’. He added that the program is ‘necessary as well as proportionate in the strict sense, since the ECB does not assume a risk that will necessarily make it vulnerable to insolvency’. As a reminder, the Advocate General’s Opinion is not binding on the Court of Justice. THe judges are now deliberating and the Opinion is expected to reach its judgment by May.

The Euro plummeted by 100 pips to 1.1730 (9-year low) after the news, but came back above 1.1840 on the back of poor US retail sales figures. As a reminder, retail sales dropped 0.9% MoM on Wednesday, the most since June 2012, and missed expectations of a 0.1% decline.

However, the ‘recovery’ didn’t last very long as the single currency is currently trading at 1.1630 against the greenback. How come?

Definitely unexpected…

Yesterday morning, slightly before lunch time (Swiss local time), the Swiss National Bank announced that it was discounting the minimum exchange rate of 1.20 per Euro (that it has been ‘defending’ for the past 3-1/2 years). It also announced that it would go further into NIRP policy, pushing its interest rate on deposit balances to even more negative from -0.25% to -0.75%.

By letting the exchange rate float ‘naturally’, the consequence were brutal and EURCHF, which had been flirting with the 1.20 over the past couple of months, crashed to (less than) 75 cents per Euro, wiping out every single long EURCHF position, before ‘recovering’ to parity (now trading at 1.0140).

EURCHF

USDCHF is now trading around 0.8700 (back from above parity levels, 1.02 to be precise), and EURUSD was sold to 1.1568 before rebounding.

A Stressed Market

The Swiss curve is now trading in the negative territory for all the maturities until 10 years; the swiss market index tumbled to (less than) 8000 (almost 15 drawdown) and then stabilized around 8,400.

US yields are still compressing, with the 5-year, 10-year and 30-year trading at 1.18%, 1.72% and 2.37% respectively. I added a table below that shows the 10-year overall and definitely summaries the current ‘environment’. As you can see, Greece is the only EZ country where yields are trading at astronomic levels on the fear of a Grexit scenario in 10 days (See article here). I like the expression ‘the Japanization of Global Bond yields’ used by some analysts I read.

Capture d’écran 2015-01-16 à 10.35.47

(Source:Bloomberg)

Our favorites, AUDJPY and USDJPY, both reacted to the SNB comments ‘bringing down’ the equity market with them. AUDJPY plunged from (almost) 97 to 95.30 and is now trading at 95.60. USDJPY broke below 116.60 and dropped to 116.28; before that, it reached a daily high of 117.92 during the ‘early’ Asian hours.

The S&P500 index followed the general move and broke the 2,000 level (closing at 1,992), and is now trying to find a new low. Is it going to be a buy-on-dips scenario once again? Clearly, the equity market is ‘swingy’, however I don’t think we are about to enter a bearish momentum yet and I still see some potential on the upside. Therefore, USDJPY should also help the equity market levitate and we should see the pair back to 120.

Discrete poor US fundamentals

Yesterday was also marked by a poor jobless claims report in the US, which was totally forgotten of course but surged to 316K (vs. expectations of 290K). In addition, the Philly Fed, an index measuring changes in business growth, crashed from a 21-year high of 40.2 in November to 6.3 in January (missing expectations of 18.7), the lowest since 2014. I know these figures are quite not relevant for traders and investors, however I do think it is worth noticing it. As a reminder, US inflation rate (watched carefully by US policymakers) decreased from 1.7% to 1.3% in November and is expected to remain at low levels (between 1 and 1.5 percent).

Overall, the global economy still looks weak, and we saw lately that the World Bank decreased this year’s growth projections to 3% in 2015 (down from 3.4% last June). Major BBs declined their forecasts on oil and expect prices to remain low in the first half of this year. We heard Goldman’s Jeff Currie lately saying that prices of crude oil may fall below the bank’s 6-month forecast of $39 a barrel. Remember the chart I like to watch (oil vs. inflation vs. yields vs. equities).

The next couple of event to watch are of course the ECB meeting on January 22nd, followed by the Greek national elections on January 25 (see below). For the ECB meeting, it is hard to believe that the central bank will do nothing after the SNB’s announcement.

EZrecaps

(Source: MS Research)

The Fed’s 2015 dilemma: Equity market VS Oil prices

Even though the FX market is usually considered as an esoteric asset class, it happens that a lot of opportunities were in currencies last year. I mainly think about the Yen and the Euro, but the chart shows the main currency performances against the Dollar.

CurrenciesvsUSD

(Source: Hard Assets Investors)

We saw a couple of weeks ago that the economy increased at an annual rate of 5 percent according to the third estimates, the highest print since Q3 2003 when GDP rose by an outstanding 6.9.%. In addition, we saw in October that the final numbers for FY2014 federal deficit was $486bn (or 2.8% as a share of GDP), $197bn lower than the $680bn recorded in FY2013 and the lowest deficit since 2008 as you can see it on the chart below.

USDef

(Source: CBO)

On the top of that, the unemployment rate stands at a multi-year low of 5.8%, down 2.1% over the past couple of year. The only scary figures is US debt [like any other country], which now stands at a record high of 18tr+ USD, up 70% under Obama (10.6tr USD back in January 2009).

Another Good Year for equities…

I have to admit that with the Fed’s exit at the end of October, I was a bit anxious on the consequences it could have on the equity market, especially after the several ‘swings’ we saw (January, October). In my article Could we survive without QE (Part II with US yields), I added a chart (S&P 500) where you can see the impact on the equities each time the Fed stepped out of the bond market. Clearly not good.

But it didn’t. And after the 2013 thirty-percent rally, the S&P500 increased by another 11 percent in 2014 [and closed at records 53 times].

It looks to me that there are a lot of positive facts and the Fed can eventually start its tightening cycle. However, the collapse in oil prices will weigh on US policymakers’ decision in my opinion.

I think the question now is: which one will weigh more on US policymakers’ decision to tighten (or not)?

I strongly believe that the two main indicators the central bank is watching are the equity market and oil prices. An increasing equity market tends to have a positive effect on consumer spending (through the wealth effect). As a reminder, consumer spending represents 60 to 70 percent of GDP for most of the well-developed economies.

However, falling oil prices, with now Crude Oil WTI Feb15 Futures trading at $51.80 per barrel, is problematic. First of all, problematic for oil exporters’ countries (i.e. Chart of the Day: Oil Breakeven prices). We saw lately that Saudi Arabia announced that it will face a deficit of $38.6bn in FY2015, its first one since 2011 and the largest in its history (no projected oil price was included in the 2015 budget, but some analysts estimated that the Kingdom is projecting a price of $55-$60 per barrel).

I am just back from Kuwait City where I met a few investors there with a friend of mine (Business Developer in the Middle East), and most of them agreed that there were comfortable with a barrel at $60.

To me, falling oil prices reflect the weakening global demand and real economy effects. With the Chinese economy slowing down (GDP growth rate of 7.3% in Q3 is the slowest in five years), major economies back into recession (Triple-dip recession for Italy and Japan) and rising geopolitical instability, forecasts are constantly reviewed lower and problematic for debt stability [and sustainability]. I like the chart below (Source: ZeroHedge) which clearly explains that oil prices and global demand are moving together. In fact, lower growth projections combined with low oil prices and [scary] low yields are problematic for the Fed.

GlobalChart

(Source: ZeroHedge)

Moreover, falling oil prices is problematic as it will drive US [and global] inflation lower. The inflation rate is slowing in most of the developed economies: in November, UK inflation fell to a 12-year low of 1% in November, EZ policymakers are still working on how to counter rising deflation threat (prices eased to a 5-year low of 0.3%) and US CPI fell at the steepest rate in almost six years to 1.3%. Most of the countries whose central banks target inflation are below their target.

2015: New Board, new doves…

In addition, as you can see it below, the ‘hawks’ members – Fisher and Plosser – are out this year and this could change the tenor of debate within US central bank’s policy-setting committee.

FedBoard

(Source: Deutsche Bank)