The Old Lady left rates on hold
But Norway was somewhat more bold
They cut rates to nil
And won’t move them til
The virus is fin’lly controlled
Once again, central banks are sharing the headlines with Covid-19 as they attempt to address the havoc the virus is causing throughout the world. The latest moves come from the Bank of England, which while leaving policy unchanged, hinted at further stimulus to come next month, and the Norgesbank.
The base rate in the UK is currently at a record low level of 0.10%, and they have been adamant that there is no place for negative rates in the island nation. This means that QE is the only other serious tool available, and while they did not increase the amount of purchases at this meeting, it seems the current guidance, to reach a total of £465 billion, will be exhausted in July. Hence, two MPC members voted to increase QE today with the rest indicating that is a more appropriate step next month. In sum, expectations are now for a £100 billion increase at the June meeting. The other noteworthy thing from the meeting was the BOE’s economic forecast, which forecast a 14% decline in GDP in 2020 before a sharp rebound in 2021. This is by far the most dire forecast we have seen for the UK. Through it all, though, the pound has held its own, and is actually modestly higher this morning, although it remains lower by nearly 2% this month.
Meanwhile, the Norgesbank surprised almost every analyst by cutting its Deposit rate to 0.0%, a new record low for the country. With oil prices having rebounded so sharply over the past two weeks, one might have thought that prospects in Norway were improving. However, the commentary accompanying the cut indicated that the council members are trying to ensure that there will be no liquidity constraints when the economy starts to reopen post-virus, and so sought to stay ahead of the curve. They also indicated that there was virtually no chance that interest rates would move into negative territory, although we have heard that song before. The market is now expecting the Deposit Rate to remain at 0.0% for another two years. As to the krone, it is actually the strongest currency in the G10 (and the world) this morning, having risen by 1.6% vs. the dollar as I type, although it was even stronger prior to the Norgesbank action.
Today’s news simply reinforces that central banks remain the first line of defense for nearly every nation with regard to economic support during this period. As much as fiscal stimulus is critical for helping support any rebound going forward, central banks are still best positioned to adjust policies as necessary on a timely basis. Just remember how long and hard the process was for the US congress to write, debate, vote on and implement the CARES act. The same is true throughout the developed world, where legislative bodies don’t move at the speed of either the virus or markets. And so, for the foreseeable future, central banks will remain the primary tool for virtually every nation in seeking to mitigate the impact of Covid-19.
The biggest problem with this circumstance is that most central banks, and certainly the major ones, have nearly exhausted their ammunition in this fight. In the G10, the highest overnight rate currently is 0.25%, with the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand all at that level. While QE was clearly a powerful tool when first widely introduced in 2010, it has lost some of its strength. At least with respect to aiding Main Street as opposed to Wall Street. That is why QE has evolved from government bond purchases to central bank purchases of pretty much any asset available. And yet, despite their collective efforts, monetary policy remains an extremely inefficient instrument with which to fight a viral outbreak. However, you can be sure that there will be many distortions to the economy for years to come as a result of all this activity. And that has much longer-term implications, likely slowing the pace of any recovery and future growth significantly.
Meanwhile, markets this morning are in fairly fine fettle, with equity indices in Europe all higher by something under 1%. And this is despite some pretty awful data releases showing French IP fell 16.2% in March and 17.3% Y/Y. Germany’s data, while better than that, was still awful (IP -9.2% in March and -11.6% Y/Y) and Italy regaled us with collapsing Retail Sales data (-21.3% in March). But no matter, investors are now looking into 2021 and the prospects of a strong recovery for their investment thesis. The only problem with this theory is that the potential for a non-V-shaped recovery is quite high. If this is the case, I would look for markets to reprice valuations at some point. Earlier, APAC equity markets were mixed, with the Nikkei edging higher by 0.3%, but Hang Seng (-0.6%) and Shanghai (-0.2%) both a bit softer. Finally, US futures are looking pretty good at this hour, higher by nearly 1.5% across the board.
Bond prices have edged a bit lower this morning, but movement has been modest to say the least. Yesterday saw Treasury yields rise from 10-years on out as the Treasury announced a surprisingly large 20-year auction of $20 billion. It seems that we are about to see more significant Treasury issuance going forward, and if the Fed does not continue to expand its balance sheet, we are likely to see the back end continue to sell off with correspondingly higher interest rates and a steeper yield curve. But that is a story for another day.
Elsewhere in the FX markets, Aussie (+0.9%) and Kiwi (+0.7%) have been the next best performers after NOK, as both are benefitting from the current narrative of reopening economies leading to the bottom of the economic peril. On the flip side, the yen (-0.4%) has given back some of its recent gains as risk appetite grows.
In the EMG space, the major loser is TRY, which has fallen 1.0% this morning, to a new historic low, after the central bank enacted rules to try to prevent further speculation against the currency. Alas, as long as it is freely traded, those rules will have a tough time stopping the rout. On the plus side, the three main movers have been RUB (+0.9%), ZAR (+0.8%) and MXN (+0.65%), all of which are benefitting from this morning’s positive risk attitude. One other thing to note is BRL, which while not yet open, fell another 2.5% yesterday and is back pushing its historic low levels vs. the dollar. The story there continues to be political in nature, with increasing pressure on President Bolsonaro as his most popular cabinet members exit and markets lose confidence in his presidency. My take is 6.00 is coming soon to a screen near you.
On the data front, yesterday’s ADP print of -20.236M was pretty much on the money and didn’t seem to have much impact. This morning we see Initial Claims (exp 3.0M), Continuing Claims (19.8M), Nonfarm Productivity (-5.5%) and Unit Labor Costs (4.5%). At this stage, we will have to see much worse than expected data to have a market impact, something which seems a bit unlikely, and beyond that, given tomorrow is the NFP report, I expect far more attention will be focused there than on this morning’s releases.
Overall, risk is in the ascendancy and so I would look for the dollar to generally remain under pressure for today, but I would not be surprised to see it recoup some of its early losses before the session ends.
Good luck and stay safe