Feeling Upbeat

The last central bank set to meet

This month is on Threadneedle Street

No change is expected

Though some have projected

The hawks there are feeling upbeat

Market focus this morning will be on the Bank of England’s policy meeting as it is the last of the major central banks to meet this month.  We have already had a tumultuous time between the ECB’s uber dovishness and the Fed’s seeming turn toward the hawkish side of the spectrum.  Of course, the Fed has largely tried to walk that idea back, but it remains firmly implanted in the market dialog.  As to the UK, growth there, despite more draconian lockdown measures still being imposed in the face of the delta variant of Covid, has been expanding rapidly according to the GDP readings while PMI data points to a continuation of that trend.  Not surprisingly, given the supply side constraints that are evident elsewhere in the world, the UK is also dealing with that issue and so prices have been rising apace.  In fact, the CPI data released last week showed the highest print in more than two years.  Of course, that print was 2.1%, hardly a number to instill fear in anyone’s heart.

And yet, the amount of talk about the need to tighten monetary policy in the UK is remarkable.  At least in the US, we are looking at exceptionally high CPI data, with numbers not seen in decades.  In contrast, CPI in the UK averaged nearly 3.0% for all of 2017, well above the most recent reading.  Not only that, but it was only at the last meeting that the BOE reaffirmed that QE was necessary to support the economy.  The idea that in 6 weeks things have changed that much seems fanciful.  That’s not to say that the committee won’t be discussing potential tightening down the road, especially if recent economic trends continue, but I find it hard to believe that given the ongoing disruptions that are still extant, there can be any serious considerations of change.  As it stands, the market is currently pricing a 15 basis point hike by next June, which would take the base rate back up to 0.25%.  

Arguably, the fact that the market is this focused on what should be a non-event is a good indication of the lack of interesting stories at the moment.  With the ECB and Fed behind us, and with both central banks furiously trying to drive the narrative to their preferred story of transitory inflation and no reason to worry, traders are looking for any opportunity to make a buck.  Some of the previous ideas, whether Bitcoin or meme stocks, have largely lost their luster.  The inflation trade, too, is having a harder time as so many commodity prices have retreated from their early Spring highs.  In this situation, it is not unusual for traders to focus on any potential catalyst far in excess of its importance.  I would contend, that is exactly what we are seeing here and that when the BOE announcement comes, it will have nothing to add to the story.

It can be no surprise, then, that market activity overnight has been extremely quiet overall.  As traders and investors look for the next big thing, volumes tend to decrease, and volatility can abate for a short period of time.  For instance, equity markets in Asia showed almost no pulse with both the Nikkei and Shanghai indices unchanged on the day while the Hang Seng managed to eke out a 0.25% gain.  Europe, on the other hand, is having a go of it, with gains in the DAX (+0.8%) and CAC (+1.0%) after much stronger than forecast confidence data was released.  The FTSE 100 (+0.3% ahead of the BOE) seems to want to join the party but is awaiting the BOE release before really moving.  And, after several desultory sessions with very limited movement in the US, futures this morning are higher by 0.5% across the board.

Bond markets are similarly quiet with modest price declines in Treasuries (+0.8bps), Bunds (+0.9bps) and OATs (+0.9bps) seen at this hour.  Gilts are essentially unchanged, clearly awaiting the BOE meeting before traders are willing to get too involved.

Commodity prices started the session with a mix of gainers and losers, but at this hour, most have turned lower.  Oil (-0.2%) is just backing off slightly but remains in a strong uptrend.  While precious metals (Au +0.2%, Ag +0/6%) stick out for being a bit higher on the day, we are seeing weakness in Copper (-0.2%), Aluminum (-0.4%) and most of the ancillary metals as well as the agricultural space with the three main crops all lower by at least 1.0%.

As to the dollar, it is a bit softer this morning with NOK (+0.4%) the leading gainer despite oil’s reversal from early morning gains.  But there is strength in SEK (+0.3%), NZD (+0.25%) and essentially the entire G10 bloc, albeit only modest in size.  It is difficult to point to specific catalysts for this movement, although Sweden’s PPI data did print much higher than forecast leading to some speculation, they too would soon be tightening policy.

***BOE leave policy unchanged, rates on hold***

The first reaction to the BOE news is a modest decline in the pound (-0.2%) although I expect it will remain choppy for now.

Quickly turning to the EMG bloc, the dollar is softer here almost universally with RUB (+0.45%) the leading gainer and PLN (+0.4%) right behind it.  The latter is benefitting from talk that rising inflationary pressures will lead to tighter monetary policy, while the ruble, along with the krone, seems to be maintaining its early gains despite oil’s pullback.  

On the data front, this morning brings the usual weekly Initial Claims (exp 380K) and Continuing Claims (3.46M) as well as Durable Goods (2.8%, 0.7% ex transport).  We also get the final look at Q1 GDP (6.4%) which is forecast to be unchanged from the previous reading.  Tomorrow we will see Core PCE, which is the Fed’s preferred inflation measure, but we can discuss that then.

Overall, it is shaping up to be a dull day.  Further comments from the BOE are highlighting the transitory nature of inflation there, with a statement indicating that while 3.0% inflation will be coming, it will not last very long.  As I continue to type, the pound continues to slide, now down 0.3%, and interest rate markets are adjusting as well, with the rate hike scenario being pushed further into the future.  

The one area where we could get some movement is from the Fed speakers, with six on today’s calendar.  Yesterday, Atlanta Fed president Bostic was the first since the FOMC meeting last week, to reiterate that tapering would be appropriate soon as well as higher rates.  But the preponderance of evidence remains that the Fed is uninterested in doing anything for a long while yet.  I think things will get more interesting for them later in the year if inflation figures continue to run hot, but for now, they remain confident they are in control.

As to the dollar, unless we start hearing a lot more hawkish rhetoric from the Fed speakers, my sense is that it will continue to drift slightly lower in its current trading range.

Good luck and stay safe