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APAC brief - 21 Mar

MaxIG

Market action proves it again: this market hinges on the Fed: The US Fed has proven itself as the most important game in town for traders. The FOMC met this morning, and lo-and-behold: the dovish Fed has proven more dovish than previously thought; the patient Fed has proven more patient that previously thought. Interest rates have remained on hold, but everyone knew that was to be the case today. It was about the dot-plots, the neutral-rate, the economic projections, and the balance sheet run-off. On all accounts, the Fed has downgraded their views on the outlook. And boy, have markets responded. The S&P500 has proven its major-sensitivity to FOMC policy and whipsawed alongside a fall in US Treasury yields, as traders price-in rate cuts from the Fed in the future.

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The US Dollar sends some asset classes into a tizz: The US Dollar has tumbled across the board consequently, pushing gold prices higher. The Australian Dollar, even for all its current unattractiveness, has burst higher, to be trading back toward the 0.7150 mark. Commodity prices, especially those of thriving industrial metals, have also rallied courtesy of the weaker greenback. Emerging market currencies are collectively stronger, too. This is all coming because traders are more-or-less betting that the Fed is at the end of its hiking cycle, and financial conditions will not be constricted by policy-maker intervention. Relatively cheap money will continue to flow, as yields remain depressed, and allow for the (sometimes wonton) risk-taking conditions that markets have grown used to in the past decade.

Some risk being taken again, though somewhat nervously: The play into risk-assets makes everything sound quite rosy. There are caveats to this, however. And that relates to what’s been inferred about global growth from the Fed’s meeting this morning. Implicitly, at the very least, the Fed has acknowledged that growth in the US and world economy is all but certain to slow-down. It wasn’t said outright – a central banker would never want to be anything less than cautiously optimistic – but the tone of Fed Chair Powell at his presser suggests a Fed that is sufficiently concerned about the global economy that they will definitively reverse its policy “normalization” course. Positivity was maintained by the Fed about US economic conditions, outrightly. However, the market has read between the lines, and it doesn’t like what it sees.

Interest rates are now expected to be on hold for this cycle: So: although swung around post release, the more important bond market is telling a clearer story. The yield on the US 10 Year Treasuries have tumbled nearly 8 points to 2.53 percent, and the yield on US 2 Year Treasuries has fallen 7 points to 2.39 per cent. More remarkably, the yield on Treasuries with 3, 5- and 7-year maturities have dropped over nine points, creating a yield curve with a very flat belly. Of most concern here is that all of these securities are trading just at, or well below, the Fed’s current effective overnight-cash-rate of 2.40 per cent. Traders are now pricing in a greater than 50 per cent chance the Fed will cut rates by early next year, on the basis of deteriorating economic conditions.

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It’s getting harder for the Fed to get the right balance: The tight rope is getting narrower. For market participants, as always: on one side of it sits the need for accommodative financial conditions, on the other the need for robust growth conditions. It’s the rudimentary in principle, though complicated in practice, interplay between the credit cycle and the business cycle. Out of this Fed meeting, the proverbial tight rope walker is nervously shifting her gaze down towards the economic growth outlook. Powell and his team have apparently not struck the necessary equilibrium in its approach to its policy and communications to the market. Yes (again), risk assets have rallied, but right now, not in such a way that suggests the bulls are significantly more confident in the investment environment being planted before them.

Other stories also important, though not as much as the Fed: Some of this could be attributed to the overhang coming from some of the other significant economic stories yesterday. Sentiment has been dented by news that key EU figure Donald Tusk may demand that no Brexit extension is granted for the UK; it has also been liver-punched by a story suggesting US President Trump does not necessarily see a lifting of tariffs on China occurring in any US-Sino trade deal. Once more: it does appear that markets have seen the greatest gravitas in the Fed meeting, though. And traders’ nervousness is being betrayed by this: despite a dovish tact, corporate credit spreads have rallied, the VIX is off its multi-year lows, and US Break-evens are revealing greater inflation risk in the US economy.

Australian markets to be defined by Fed and employment numbers: Fittingly, SPI Futures are suggesting the ASX200 will open somewhere between 5-and-10 points lower this morning. Speaking of markets and the growth outlook, not only will Australian trade be impacted by the fall-out from the Fed’s nervously dovish tilt, we also get some highly anticipated employment figures out this morning. The currency and rates markets will be what to watch for: the themes driving the ASX200 this week is the renewed push in iron ore prices, along with the rotation into yield-driven defensive sectors as Australian ACGB yields tumble. The RBA have hitched their hopes for the Australian economy on a tightening labour market and subsequent lift in wages growth and inflation. Watch therefore today for any major downside miss in employment numbers.

Written by Kyle Rodda - IG Australia

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