Though Bond Prices Tumbled

There once was a time when the buck
Reacted when bonds came unstuck
If fear was seen rising
It wasn’t surprising
If traders would back up the truck

But lately though bond prices tumbled
The dollar just hasn’t been humbled
Instead of declining
Investors are pining
For dollars as other cash crumbled

First, a moment of silence to remember the horrific events of 18 years ago this morning…

As the market awaits tomorrow’s ECB meeting, it is not surprising that FX markets have remained pretty benign. In fact, looking across both G10 and EMG currencies, the largest mover overnight was the Hungarian forint, which has fallen 0.4%, a moderately exaggerated move relative to the shallow rally in the dollar. Arguably, yesterday’s modestly lower than expected CPI print has reduced some of the pressure on the central bank there to keep policy firm, hence the selloff. But otherwise, there are really no stories of direct currency interest today and no data of note overnight.

As such, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at government bond yields and their gyrations lately. It was just eight days ago when 10-year Treasury yields were trading at 1.45% as expectations for further coordinated policy ease by the major central banks became the meme du jour. Economic data appeared to be rolling over (ISM at 49.1, German GDP -0.1%, Eurozone CPI 0.9%, etc.) which inspired thoughts of massive policy ease by the big 3 central banks. The market narrative evolved into the ECB cutting rates by 0.20% and restarting QE to the tune of €35 billion / month while the Fed cut 0.50% and the BOJ cut rates by 0.10% and pumped up QE further. It seemed as though analysts were simply trying to outdo one another’s forecasts so they could be heard above the din. And after all, we had seen central banks all around the world cutting rates during the previous two months (Australia, New Zealand, Philippines, South Korea, India et al.) so it seemed natural to expect the biggest would be acting soon.

During this time, the FX market responded as might be expected during a pretty clear risk-off scenario, the dollar and the yen rallied while other currencies suffered. In fact, we have seen several currencies trade near historic lows lately (CLP, COP, BRL, INR, PHP to name a few). Equity markets were caught between fear and the idea that central bank ease would support stock prices, and while there were certainly wobbles, in the end greed won out.

But then a funny thing happened to the narrative; a combination of data and commentary started to turn the tide (sorry for the mixed metaphor). We heard from a variety of central bank speakers, notably from the ECB, who were clearly pushing back on the narrative. Weidmann, Lautenschlager, Knot and Villeroy were all adamant that there was no reason for the ECB to consider restarting QE. At the same time, just before the quiet period we heard from a number of Fed members (Rosengren, George, Kaplan, Barkin) who were quite clear they didn’t see the need for an aggressive rate cutting stance, and then Chairman Powell, in the last words before the quiet period, basically stuck to the party line of the current stance being a modest mid-cycle adjustment as they closely monitored the data.

It cannot be a surprise that the market has adjusted its views ahead of the first of the three central bank meetings tomorrow. But boy, what an adjustment. 10-year Treasury yields have rallied 27bps, 10-year Bunds are higher by 19bps and 10-year JGB yields are up 8.5bps (there’s a lot less activity there as the BOJ already owns so many bonds there is very little ability to trade.) However, this is not a risk-on move despite the movement in yields. This has been a massive position unwinding. A couple of things highlight the lack of risk appetite. First, the dollar continues to move higher overall. While individual currencies may have good days periodically, nothing has changed the long-term trend of dollar strength. And history shows that when risk is sought, dollars are sold. Equity markets have also been underwhelming lately, with very choppy price action but no direction. Granted, stocks are not falling, but they are certainly not rallying like risk is being ignored. And finally, gold, which had been performing admirably during the fear period, has ceded some of its recent gains as positions there are also unwound.

The point is that in the current market environment, it is very difficult to draw lessons from the price movement. Market moves lately have been all about position adjustments and very little about either market fundamentals (data) or monetary policy. While this is not the first time markets have behaved in this manner, in the past these periods have tended to be pretty short. The ECB meeting tomorrow will allow views to crystalize regarding future monetary policy there, and my sense is that we will go back to the previous market driver of the policy narrative. In fact, it is arguably quite healthy that we have seen this correction as it allows markets a fresh(er) start with new information. However, there is still nothing I see on the horizon which will weaken the dollar overall.

This morning the only thing of note on the calendar is PPI (exp 1.7%, 2.2% core). It is hard to believe that it will change any views. At this point, look for continued position adjustments (arguably modest further declines in bond prices but no direction in the dollar) as we all await Signor Draghi and the ECB tomorrow morning.

Good luck
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