Post date: 23/05/2022 13:24
Last week saw some strange market action. Financial headlines were dominated by the relentless sell-off in world equity markets that left the S&P 500 index flirting with the semi-official bear market line of 20% below its record high. Among G10 currencies, the Swiss franc notched a rare win as the flight to safety bid combined with a hawkish central bank to send it soaring by over 2% against the US dollar. More surprising was the general weakness in the US dollar, which failed to benefit from its safe-haven role. In fact, the winners of the week were Latin American currencies, which is particularly impressive in the current risk averse environment. As long standing LatAm bulls, we are not complaining, however.
This week the focus will be on any spillovers from the volatility in stock markets to the FX market, on one hand, and the PMIs of business activity on the other. The Eurozone and UK indices are all expected to print well above 55.n We think that these levels belie the fears of recession that appear to be gripping asset markets. It is difficult to reconcile still massively negative real rates, huge government deficits and economies at full employment with any sustained economic pullback.
Data out of the UK continued to suggest a dichotomy between sentiment and reality. Consumer sentiment was dismal, but jobs data came out very strong, as did retail sales. Inflation in April was sky high, as expected. Sterling bounced back in line with the general dollar selloff and managed some gains against the euro as well. We think there is little to suggest a recession is likely, and this week’s PMI data should be further evidence. It seems that the Bank of England’s apparent willingness to tolerate inflation due to the risks to growth is misplaced. In the short-term, Bank of England dovishness may weigh on the pound, but after the recent sell-off we think that the currency is quite cheap and offers a solid opportunity over the longer term.
The retreat of the ECB doves in the face of inflationary reality accelerated last week, as the hawkish Dutch member of the council suggested that not only is a July hike a near certainty, but a 50 bp hike could be on the cards. This is happening at the same time US short term rates are having trouble pushing higher, partially because so much is priced in on the part of the Federal Reserve. As a result, interest rate differentials across the Atlantic have shrunk and are no higher now than in March. This trend should be supportive for the euro and we may have already seen the bottom. This week’s PMIs should be strong and partially assuage recession fears in the US, enabling the ECB to continue its policy turnaround and focus squarely on containing inflation.
Strong retail sales last week confirmed that so far there is little sign that higher prices are doing much to deter the US consumer. However, it is a volatile indicator and one cannot extract a lot of information from a single print. US yields fell in sympathy with stocks, and for now the US dollar seems to have recoupled to rate differentials with the rest of the world, so it fell as well. On tap for this week is the publication of the minutes for the last meeting of the Federal Reserve, which we expect to reiterate that the next two hikes are likely to be “doubles”, i.e., 50 bp. However, all of this is already priced in by markets, and it will be difficult for US short term rates to price in any more. We think the dollar is vulnerable to a sustained pullback here.