On Edge

Two fears have the market on edge
Inflation that many allege
Will drive bond yields higher
Thus, causing a dire
Result, pushing stocks off the ledge

But right now, the bulls rule the roost
As inflation has not been produced
So, Jay and Christine
Have no need to wean
The market from QE’s large boost

Yesterday morning’s CPI release was a touch softer than expected, thus helping to abate fears of the much-mooted inflationary surge arriving soon.  (PS, it is clear that starting next month the CPI data will be much higher, given the year over year comps, with the key question being will that continue through the summer and beyond.)  In the meantime, bond investors, who had clearly been concerned over the rising inflation story, relaxed a bit and bought more Treasuries.  The result was that the early morning rise in yields was unwound.  Of course, the other big news yesterday was the 10-year Treasury auction which was received by the market with general aplomb.  While there was a 1 basis point tail, the bid-to-cover ratio at 2.37 was right in line with recent averages.  One little hiccup, though, was indirect bidders (usually foreign governments) continued their declining participation, falling to 56.8%, with the implication that natural demand for Treasuries is truly sinking.  This latter point is critical because, given the amount of new money the Treasury will need to borrow this year and going forward, it will increase pressure on the Fed to absorb more (i.e. increase QE), or yields will definitely climb.

However, that apparently, is a story for another day.  Equity markets reveled in the low inflation print and modest bond market rally, while the dollar fell pretty much across the board, reversing all of its early gains.

Which brings us to this morning’s ECB meeting, where the question is not about a change in policy, as quite clearly no policy change is in the offing, but rather about the ECB’s utilization and reaction function of its current policy programs.  While sovereign yields have stabilized for the past several sessions, the fact remains that they have not fallen back anywhere near the levels seen at the beginning of the year.  The question market participants have is exactly what will constitute a tightening in financial conditions that might bring a response.

As mentioned yesterday, the ECB has been consistently underutilizing the PEPP compared to recent months, with weekly purchases falling to a net €12 billion despite the rise in yields.  So, it would seem that the ECB does not believe the current yield framework is a hindrance to the economy.  However, you can be sure that Madame Lagarde will field several questions on the topic at this morning’s press conference as market participants try to determine the ECB’s pain threshold.  The last we heard on the topic was that they were carefully watching the market with some of the more dovish members calling for a more active stance to prevent a further climb in yields.

And remember, the ECB is not only focused on sovereign yields, but on the exchange rate as well, which is also officially a key indicator.  With the US inflation story getting beaten back, and US yields slipping, the euro’s concomitant rise will not be welcome.  Now, we remain well below the early January highs in the single currency, but if the euro has bottomed, and more importantly starts that long-term rise that is so widely expected, the ECB will find themselves in yet another sticky situation.  These, however, are stories for a future date, as today the euro is firmly in the middle of recent ranges while sovereign yields are slipping a bit.

With two potential landmines behind us, risk appetite has been reawakened, with asset purchases across virtually all classes.  For instance, overnight saw equity market strength across the board (Nikkei +0.6%, Hang Seng +1.65%, Shanghai +2.4%) although Europe’s early gains have mostly diminished and markets are little changed ahead of the ECB (DAX -0.1%, CAC +0.1%, FTSE 100 -0.35%).  US futures, though, are largely booming, led by the NASDAQ (+1.9%) but seeing solid gains in the other indices as well.

On the bond front, Treasury yields are lower by 1.9 basis points, back to 1.50%, while we are seeing more modest declines in the major European bond markets, on the order of 0.5bps for all of them.

Oil prices are firmly higher (WTI +1.2%) as is the entire energy complex.  Metals prices, too, are rising with both precious and base seeing a resumption of demand.  Meanwhile agricultural prices are generally moving up in sync.  Once again, to the extent that commodity price rises are a harbinger of future inflation, the signs are clearly pointing in that direction.

The dollar, meanwhile, which reversed yesterday’s early gains to close lower across the board, has continued in that direction with further losses this morning.  CHF (+0.5%) leads the way in the G10, which given the fact it had been the biggest loser over the past month, falling more than 5.6%, should be no surprise.  But the rest of the bloc is seeing gains in the commodity focused currencies with AUD (+0.45%), NZD (+0.4%) and CAD (+0.3%) next in line.  Perhaps the biggest surprise is that NOK (0.0%) is not along for the ride.

EMG currencies are also broadly firmer led by BRL (+1.6%) which is following on yesterday’s 2.5% rally as the central bank has been actively intervening to stem the real’s recent weakness.  Concerns remain over rising inflation, and expectations for rising policy rates are growing there, which would likely support the currency even more.  But we are seeing strength in ZAR (+1.0%), CLP (+1.0%) and MXN (+0.65%) as well, clearly all benefitting from the commodity story.  However, virtually the entire bloc is firmer given today’s increasing risk-on attitude.

Aside from the ECB meeting, with the statement published at 7:45 and the press conference at 8:30, we see Initial Claims (exp 725K), Continuing Claims (4.2M) and the JOLTs Job Openings survey (6.7M).  Again, no Fed speakers so look for the dollar to follow risk attitude and the movement in real yields.  Those are both pointing toward a lower dollar as the day progresses, and I see no reason to fight that absent comments from a surprising source.  Unless Madame Lagarde fumbles the press conference, look for this little risk bounce to continue.

Good luck and stay safe