His New Paradigm

No longer will we
Buy stocks every month.  Instead
We will surprise you

Last night, the final major central bank meeting of the week was held, and in it the BOJ announced the results of its policy review.  The two most notable features of this review were the scrapping of the annual ¥6 trillion target of equity ETF purchases, although they did explain that if they felt it necessary and conditions warranted, they could purchase up to ¥12 trillion, and a formalized range of the targeted yield in 10-year JGB’s at 0.25% either side of 0.00%.  As an addendum, they also indicated that any equity purchases going forward would be linked to the TOPIX Index, which tracks the entire first section of the Japanese stock market, rather than the Nikkei 225, which is far more concentrated.  Remember, one of the concerns registered by investors has been that the BOJ is not only the largest holder of JGB’s, but also the largest holder of Japanese equities in the country/world.  Regarding the JGB market, the market’s working assumption has been the acceptable trading range was +/- 0.20%, so this is a bit wider despite Kuroda-san’s insistence that nothing had changed.

In what cannot be a terribly surprising outcome, the Nikkei 225 fell on the news, -1.4%, although the TOPIX actually edged higher by 0.2%.  I guess when the biggest, and least price sensitive, buyer shifts from one index to another, this outcome is to be expected.  As to the JGB market, pretty much nothing happened with yields rising a scant 0.5bps and well within the new formal range at +0.10%.  Finally, the yen is essentially unchanged on the day as well, although the dollar’s broad-based strength of the past several weeks has really helped the BOJ here as the yen has declined more than 5% year-to-date, something the BOJ had been singularly unable to engineer on its own.

The bond market wasted no time
In forcing a major yield climb
Responding to Jay
And all he did say
Defining his new paradigm

While Treasury yields have backed off a touch this morning, the damage has clearly been done by Chairman Powell.  His Wednesday press conference, where he doubled down on just how dovish he was going to remain regardless of the bond market’s performance, has set the stage for what will ultimately be his biggest test.  After all, as a policy response, it is not a great leap to dramatically cut interest rates in the face of a pandemic driven economic collapse. However, once a policymaker insists that they are unconcerned with inflation and they are going to allow the economy to “run hot” for a while, it is a MUCH harder problem to determine when too much movement has occurred and to rein in potential excesses that can prevent the ultimate goals from being reached.

It is this set of conditions in which we currently find ourselves and which will be the lead story for months to come.  If history is any guide, the bond market will continue to sell off, ostensibly on the back of stronger economic data, but in reality, as an ongoing test of Powell and the new Fed stance.  Jay was extremely clear on Wednesday that he was unconcerned with the movement in the bond market, describing financial conditions as very accommodative.  Starting next month, the inflation data is going to be rising much more rapidly as the comparison from 2020 will show much stronger price pressures on a Y/Y basis.  This is THE battle for the next six months, with all other markets destined to react to the outcome.

The two possible outcomes shape up as follows: the Fed will be forced to respond to rising yields as the pressure on the Treasury grows and financing costs increase too rapidly thus resulting in expanded QE, Operation Twist, or YCC; or Powell stays true to his word and allows 10-year yields to rise much higher (think 2.8%-3.0%) with a corresponding steepening in the yield curve which drives the equity bus over a cliff and forces a Fed response to a cratering stock market under the guise of tightening financial conditions that need to be addressed.  Through our FX lens, the first will result in the dollar topping out much sooner than the second, as it will cap real yields and ultimately send them farther into negative territory.  But in either case, it appears that the dollar has room to run for the time being.  It will be an epic battle and my money is on the market forcing the Fed to blink before they would like.

Now to today’s markets.  After yesterday’s tech led US sell-off, we already saw that Japanese stocks were under pressure, but there was weakness across the board in Asia (Hang Seng -1.4%, Shanghai -1.7%) and we are entirely red in Europe as well (DAX -0.4%, CAC -0.4%, FTSE 100 -0.6%).  US futures, on the other hand, are pointing higher at this hour, up between 0.2%-0.5%.  We shall see if that holds up.

Bonds have reversed some of yesterday’s declines (higher yields) with Treasuries 1 basis point lower and European sovereigns seeing larger yield declines (Bunds -3bps, OATs -3bps, Gilts -4.5bps).  However, if the Treasury market resumes its decline, I would expect European yields to track higher as well, albeit at a slower pace.

Oil prices got smoked yesterday, falling more than 10% at one point before closing down 7.5% on the day.  That puts this morning’s modest 0.6% rise into context.  It appears that the oil market had gotten a bit ahead of itself.  As to the rest of the commodity bloc, metals are generally lower this morning although most ags are firmer.

Finally, the dollar is beginning to edge higher as New York walks in, with SEK (-0.3%) and NOK (-0.25%) leading the way down, although the entire G10 bloc in negative territory.  As neither nation had new news, these moves appear to be simple follow-ons to the resuming dollar trend of modest strength.  The EMG space is a bit different, with several currencies faring well this morning, notably TRY (+1.15%) on continued buying after the surprising rate hike, and MXN (+0.65%) as traders start to bet on Banxico raising rates more aggressively, following in the footsteps of Brazil.  On the downside, KRW (-0.6%) essentially gave up yesterday’s gains on the broad risk-off sentiment in Asia, which also dragged TWD (-0.5%) lower.  After that, the bulk of the movement in this space has been modest, at best, in either direction.

There is no US data to be released today, and no Fed speakers either.  Rather, the big story in the market is the triple witching in equities (expiration of options, futures and futures options), which oftentimes has a significant market impact.  And meanwhile, all eyes will remain on the Treasury market, as it is currently the single most important signal available.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe