A renewed surge on risk aversion reignited the Yen, while the USD, invigorated by a solid US NFP, and backed up by strong technicals, also rose, in tandem with the appreciation seen in the Canadian Dollar as the domestic employment numbers topped expectations. The Swiss Franc managed to firm up its stance amid this risk-off dynamics, but far from amassing the most demand last Friday. The tightening of financial conditions came as the number of deaths caused by the NCoV now exceed SARS (813 v 774), even if the predictions by several epidemiologists of prestige see a peak in the NCoV in Wuhan by mid-late February. As a consequence of the sell-off in risk assets, the Aussie and Kiwi, as the two favorite shorts acting as a proxy for China, got dumped last Friday. The Euro continues to trade in a confined range at an index level amid the lack of clear catalysts, while the Pound is still attracting committed sellers since the highs printed over a week ago as the UK enters a tricky period of trade negotiations with the EU.
The economic calendar was packed with Central Bank events, including Fed’s Powell, ECB’s Lagarde and BOE’s Carney. The net effect, after all said and done, is a sense that these policymakers did a great job at sounding non-committal and sticking to the familiar mantra. What does this mean? It means there was little meat in the bone, a lack of substance or new surprises in the remarks they had prepared. As a consequence, the movement in currencies this week continues to be rather dull in nature, with the US Dollar a touch softer, even if that has not acted as a catalyst to see buying in the Euro, which remains in free-fall. Watch the EUR index closely as it nears a key level where long inventry building is a real possibility.
The Kiwi, however, is the exception, marked up aggressively by algo activity and the unwinding of shorts on the aftermath of a more hawkish-than-expected RBNZ. The Aussie, meanwhile, saw buy-side flows re-emerge but at a much slower pace as the positive groove in equities feeds through. The lower reported rate of new NCoV infections by China (even if numbers manipulated), or expectations of some factories in China to soon re-open are factors supporting equities. Not to forget, the Fed’s balance sheet expansion via money market operations, alongside the boost in Trump ratings to win this year’s presidential race after the Iowa caucus fiasco is also an aid.
This recovery in equities is causing the Yen and Swissy to see sell-side flows dominate this week, but the setback in the currencies is still under a bullish context when analyzing the aggregated daily flow. The Sterling is one of the clear beneficiaries from the current state of affairs, with its recovery more to do with a technically-inspired re-loading of longs at a critical liquidity area than any particular fundamental catalyst, as the EU-UK trade talks still the key driver with the outlook as tricky as it was during the aggressive sell-off in the Pound earlier this month. Lastly, the Canadian Dollar remains firmer but on the daily the currency remains structurally bearish.
The more days that go by, the more traders are getting a sense that the worst in the NCoV scare may be behind us. This is not a hunch or something I write out of my gut feeling, but as usual, I let price action and the aggregated flows in G8 FX tell the story. We are witnessing, without exception, the three funding currencies (EUR, GBP, CHF) be dumped this week. Whenever speculators show a greater interest to borrow a low-interest rate currency to use it as a funding currency to profit, it suggests the carry trade is ‘back on’, and this would not be happening if the market was still engulfed by elevated levels of uncertainty. As one shifts the focus to equities, the same picture arises, with the S&P 500 making fresh record highs. Chinese equities? The same story, with 7 days of straight gains in the CSI 300 index. The Aussie has clearly benefited from this recovery in risk, at a time when the RBA Governor Lowe is starting to sound more upbeat on the economy judging by the speech given this Thursday. However, the Aussie performance was eclipsed by the aggressive mark-up in the New Zealand Dollar after the RBNZ hints at the end of its easing bias. Shifting gears to the world’s reserve currency, the USD maintains a bullish outlook with a notable dip buying participation noted as Fed’s Powell testimony failed to act as a catalyst to alter the northbound tendency. Its neighboring peer, the Canadian Dollar, had a stellar performance as Oil keeps recovering in line with risk, while the Pound saw very tepid aggregated flows.
The British Pound had no rivalry in the Forex land, with the currency finding strong demand after the British Finance Minister Sajid Javid resigned in what was seen as a surprise move. Immediately, the market started to connect the dots, assuming that the successor (Rishi Sunak) will support looser fiscal policy to satisfy UK PM Johnson wishes, and as a result, this may lead to a reduction in the odds for the BOE to cut rates this year. The Yen was the other currency that gained ground with the bulk of the gains seen in Asia as the number of reported coronavirus cases spiked, leading to algo-selling to dominate early doors. The catch, however, is that this spike in numbers won’t be sustained as it was due to change in the standards to measure the disease by the Health Commission for Hubei Province. Nonetheless, it was enough to see the spectacular 7-day bull run in the Chinese market to come to an end and weakness to ensue in the Aussie and the New Zealand Dollar, even if the losses were marginal. The Canadian Dollar was also affected by the selling in carry trades, but the losses were minimal. The USD continues to put up a fight to prevent further downside and as I pointed out when analyzing aggregated flows in the charts section, while the USD valuation is high, the current pullback is the most pronounced seen in 2020, hence counting for further USD weakness is betting on this 2020 pattern to be broken; quite a bold call if you ask me. A currency which just keeps on delivering for the satisfaction of sellers is the Euro, unable to find sufficient buyers to stop the bleeding. Speculation that a dovish shift in rhetoric at the March ECB meeting could be in store amid the slowdown in China’s economic activity is one of the narratives doing the rounds.
Last Friday was one of those uninspiring days with minimal flows in the G8 FX complex. Buy on dip strategies continue to thrive in the British Pound and US Dollar markets, while the Japanese Yen has firmed up its stance in recent days too, despite fresh record highs in US equities. These currencies are by a large margin the strongest since the unraveling of the coronavirus crisis in China, even if the Pound trades based on factors largely non-related to the drama China is undergoing as Brexit/politics-led stories play the bigger role. Therefore, it is safe to say that the USD and the JPY are by far the fiats drawing the most demand by such an uncertain landscape.
The coronavirus has led, on the contrary, to the Aussie and Kiwi, now joined by the outperformance of the Euro, as the other group of three currencies most punished by this new dynamics in the market. As weeks have rolled by and the market keeps working out the ramifications of the coronavirus, this fall in the Euro to multi-year lows appears to carry a clear message about the impending risks of a more dovish ECB heading into the March meeting. The story here is that when ‘China sneezes, Germany catches a cold (no pun intended)’, so the market is betting on this Chinese drama to re-instill economic sluggishness in Europe, something that the ECB may have to act upon through easier tools.
As Forex traders, volatility is the oxygen we need, and judging by the last 48h, the market has certainly strangled us by missing this critical component. On Monday, with the exceptions of the British Pound and the Canadian Dollar, the rest of the G8 FX complex traded in a rather ‘comatose’ state, even if that should not surprise nobody, as the US equity and bond markets were closed in observance of President’s day. In the first hours of trading in Asia this Tuesday, looks like vol is starting to return though.
The GBP was the weakest currency on Monday, as the UK’s Brexit negotiator David Frost reminded the market once again of the big stumbling blocks that lie ahead in the negotiations for future trading relationships with the EU. Britain said it will not sign up to follow EU standards because it would defeat the point of Brexit, while the EU maintains a hardline stance in ‘the level playing field’ that the UK must respect in accordance with EU laws. A rather bold yet representative statement of where they both stand came from the French foreign minister who warned of the tough EU-UK negotiations ahead by noting “EU-UK will rip each other apart” in trade talks.
The behavior in currencies has re-aligned with the COVID-19 induced risk-off profile, this time kick started after no other than Apple downgraded its revenue guidance, attributing the setback to constrained iPhone supply and suppressed demand in China. This led to a cascade of selling pressure in those currencies most fragile to the Chinese growth story, that is, the Aussie and the Kiwi, while the Euro’s free-fall won’t stop either after a much worse-than-expected German ZEW readings, which reflects the the feared negative effects by German enterprises of the Coronavirus epidemic in China on world trade. However, the story of the day was the strong gains in Gold, surpassing the $1,600.00 mark. The USD continues to be the king of Forex, proven to be extremely resilient since the outbreak of the virus. The Yen has shown more two-way volatility through this same period, but it’s starting to catch a bid tone once again, recently rejected off a key test of support in the JPY index. The Pound, bolstered by healthy employment figures in the UK - the employment rate rose to a record high of 76.5% - has also been a beneficiary of the latest market drivers. Remember, the Pound has been very much immune to the unfolding COVID-19 drama so far, instead, it trades as a function of local economic fundamentals and Brexit/politics. Another currency that keeps displaying a great performance is the Canadian Dollar, so far unfazed by the pick up in risk-off, even if it’s hard to see the BOC retaining a neutral stance if global growth suffers and the price of Oil continues to fall as a result. Lastly, the Swissy is a currency that has been gradually debilitating, yet it finally found pockets of demand as the risk aversion kicked in.
Few will argue that the hot topic of conversation online is the debacle of the Japanese currency. Some traders at banks are speculating that the correlation breakout of Gold and the Yen represents a paradigm shift in the logic to trade the Japanese currency. I personally disagree and suspect that when a move is so aggressive without apparent justification, there is hot money ‘in the know’ preparing for a potential ramp up of further easing by the BoJ. It might well be, as an alternative, that Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund has opted to reshuffle its strategy seeking out higher yielding opportunities via USD-denominated instruments. What’s clear is that no one can really pin point at this stage what’s caused such a dramatic fall in the Yen value, but through history and economics, out of the list provided below, some could help you contextualize it.
Geographics are playing a greater role in the adjustment of portfolio positioning as the COVID-19 plays out, with concerns over the spread now in Beijing and outside of China. When officials in China are even weighing the possibility of a “Wuhan-Level” lockdown, you know risk is that the market may go on ‘the defensive’.
The acceleration to buying into the USD portrays a market that is starting to diversify more aggressively away from Asian-based currencies (JPY, CNY, AUD, NZD) and into the allure of the world’s reserve currency. This comes as the seeking of yield continues in a world with excess liquidity and too limited places to park this capital.
The market is playing a ‘defensive’ card to start the week as COVID-19 anxiety continues on the rise as the international cases and deaths keep spreading from North Korea, through Iran, all the way to Italy, where over 130 cases are now detected. This has led to extraordinary containment measures by governments to slow down the spreading of cases, while the G20 group, in its weekend meet-up, pledges to be ready to step up to the plate with coordinated fiscal stimulus, stating that it sees heightened “prospects of further downside risk to global growth persisting as the coronavirus raises uncertainty and disrupts supply chains.”
Some authorities in the space of virology, via Twitter, are concluding that while it has taken a while for the spread to take off, we are finally seeing it come to life now. Note, The international spread of the virus means that monitoring of the COVID-19 stats outside China will serve as a more accurate representation of the true evolution of the virus. This, in m opinion, poses downside risks to further episodes of risk-off as these countries hit by the virus have far more robust processes of transparency to report the real situation as opposed to China, which as we know, has been criticized for downplaying the true magnitude of this tragedy.
It is fair to say that the market has definitely hit the panic bottom as equities suffer drops to the tune of nearly 4%, while bond yields continue the dramatic falls, all indicative of a market that is pricing in, at this pace, a global recession this year. The culprit? The spreading of COVID-19 to the West.
It is precisely this proximity of the virus to the West that the market is finally picking up, no longer complacent, as we clearly observe a developing and growing correlation between the proximity of the virus to the Western world and fear in market participants as well as government.
Risk-off is certainly back with a vengeance with no mercy for equities, which appear to finally be ‘catching down’ to the reality of a world that faces the prospects of a recession. News that more cases are popping up in European countries (Spain, Italy, Germany…) alongside the state of readiness by some states in the US for a virus outbreak keeps spooking the market. It feels as though the market has finally caved in and now prices convincingly an upcoming announcement by the World’s Health Organization that we are facing a ‘pandemic situation’.
The behavior in the Aussie and the Kiwi keeps playing into this view as the currencies suffer the most its proximity to China and are set to experience the greatest economic pain if the global economy stagnates. The US Dollar, although to a lesser degree, also joined the fragility in the Oceanic currencies, in what still looks like a technical correction in a very well-established uptrend this year. The weakness in the Canadian Dollar is a nascent development to also keep an eye on as the unwinding of the ‘carry trade’ back to old fashion ‘risk-off’ dynamics with Oil flirting with the $50.00 handle is far from the backdrop that would make the currency thrive.
The behavior in financial markets continue to portray how deeply concerning the COVID-19 situation has gotten as numerous agencies around the globe set the stage for an upcoming ‘pandemic’, even if that’s a term that the highest health authority (WHO) is yet to adopt. After two days of a meltdown in the equity market, a temporary pause ensued, even if that’s far from helping to turn around the ‘risk-off’ sentiment. The broader aggressive selling recently seen elsewhere from bond yields, Oil, Aussie/Kiwi, or the spike in the VIX, remember, encapsulates the huge ramifications of a COVID-19 pandemic as more countries impose airline/event cancellations, travel curbs and quarantines, with the social, economic and health-related costs associated with it. The increased exposure into funding currencies (EUR, CHF, JPY) and selling in the commodity-linked complex such as the Aussie, Kiwi and Canadian Dollar keeps on going. Of note is the acceleration in CAD weakness. The Euro and Swissy have shown the most demand interest, even if in the last 24h, the US Dollar starts to challenge that status as its likely transient spell of weakness is finally showing signs of reversing back up. The Pound, meanwhile, was engulfed by sell-side action since the early stages of Europe, as the market readies to hear the UK mandate for the upcoming post-Brexit trade talks.
Today’s aggregated G8 FX indices chart leaves no doubt, the torrid market conditions out there, with the S&P 500 shaving over 10% from its all time high, suggests the hold of carry trades has become way too risky. The immediate ramifications of this aggressive unwind is to witness funding currencies the likes of the Euro, the Yen and the Franc flying in style. It’s simply not the time to keep carry-trade exposure when we’ve had the worst week in US equities since the GFC and the VIX at a 2-year high. One can see in the chart below the considerable gap that has opened up between ‘the funding currencies’ and ‘the high yielding complex’ with the Canadian Dollar by a country mile the most punished. I salute you with huge respect if you’ve been able to capitalize it through EUR/CAD longs. What a move! When looking at the Aussie and Kiwi, it’s the same old story, with sellers firmly in control. Make sure you visit the ‘insights into charts’ section for an opportunity to explore the smart money footprint in the Oceanic currencies as short-inventory keeps being built. In this environment of funding currencies thriving, USD longs were too schooled not to marry to a single direction, in this case longs, despite the 2020 bull trend is still in place. Lastly, the Pound remains unloved as the political brinkmanship by UK PM Johnson with the EU ratchets up.
A replica of the story narrated in my last report played out last Friday as a market long carry trade structures kept imploding. The colossal weekly losses in equities - worst week since 2008 -, commodities and bond yields kept facilitating higher volatility in FX as the unwind of short exposure in funding currencies becomes the trend to exploit by market forces.
The ‘eye-popping’ miss in China’s PMI over the weekend - worst on record - has only aggravated the fears that the market is quickly headed towards a global slowdown, with coordinated Central Bank intervention through lower interest rates to start as early as tomorrow when the RBA meets. Powell’s ‘emergency’ statement on Friday, laying the ground for lower rates in the US this March, has served as a minor circuit breaker to halt the bloodbath in equities.
The European funding currencies (EUR, CHF) kept charging higher on Monday even if the aggregated flows, I am highly agnostic of this one-way traffic to continue. One of the much-awaited circuit breakers to see the bloodbath in carry trade long structures to come to an end was always going to be a coordinated intervention by G7 Central Banks.
That’s exactly the type of response that the market is now awaiting for after reports indicate a conference call has been set up at 11pm ET Tuesday by Central Bankers and Finance Ministers to discuss a response to the impact of the coronavirus. This call will be led by Mnuchin and Powell. Whether or not the massive turnaround seen in equities has further legs will largely depend on how much details they are able to provide in decisive actions to be taken.
Anyway we slice it, there is little room for ambiguity, the Forex market is well and truly alive with very healthy levels of volatility the new norm. With the Fed going above and beyond to avoid being schooled by the markets again, it resorted to a surprising 50bp rate cut as part of an emergency meeting, which was the first one since the 2008 global financial crisis, and speaks volumes of how rapid the economic prospects have deteriorated. And they may not even be done as more rate cuts may follow ahead of the March 18th FOMC. A return to Fed’s unconventional tools (QE) may not be such a distant prospect after all.
A reversal in sentiment to bullish in the US stocks market saw the need to tap into funding currencies reduced quite significantly. The main culprit behind the rally in equities came as Bernie Sanders’ Democratic nomination was decimated in favor of a Presidential race between Trump and Biden after the latter was the big winner of Super Tuesday. This temporary return of the groovy mood in equities and bond yields kept therefore the EUR, CHF and JPY stable. The other major story was the 50bp rate cut by the Bank of Canada, a move that follows the extraordinary action announced by the Fed the previous day to combat the virus-induced tightening of financial conditions. The decision was too heavy a burden for the CAD, which ended up as the worst performer as the BoC appears not yet done with its easing cycle. On the flip side, the Aussie keeps showing near-term strength as it extends the bounce off its 100% measured movement, an area susceptible to a mean reversal as warned. The Pound joined the Aussie at the top of the leaderboard on Wednesday after buyers made a comeback off a macro level of support judging by where the GBP index bounced off. The USD, on the back of the desperate move by the Fed to ease policy, tread water by consolidating recent losses. Last but not least, the Kiwi remains unloved with very poor interest to get off its depressed levels.
So far, the easing measures by the Fed, RBA and BOC have provided a very limited relief rally to the underlying risk-off dynamics, with the funding currencies’ complex still the place to be. Even the added groovy vibes via the major boost of Biden winning the Democration nomination have lasted barely 24h, with the market psyche still deeply rooted towards the COVID-19 as the big macro theme of 2020 as fears of widespread community transmissions in the US mount. As the day went on, risk trades softened and this led to Yen buying, while the Swiss Franc and the Euro followed in lockstep, although the buying flows were not as strong.
If the demand shock courtesy of COVID-19 was not enough of a stumbling block for the depressed outlook for the price of Oil, an all-out price war broke out over the weekend after Saudi Aramco cut its official selling price and announced that it plans to increase output well in excess of 10m bpd amid OPEC crumbling after a rejection by Russia to further curtail Oil production. The collateral effects have resulted in an absolutely epic hammering of Oil towards the $30.00 mark, another textbook case of what panic selling does to safe haven Yen - Yen crosses flash crash included -, while the max exodus off carry trade continues unabated, leading to also strength in the Euro as hedging and margin calls ensue. The S&P 500 was limit down after falling more than 5%. The most affected currency by the implosion of Oil prices has been, by a large margin, the Canadian Dollar and the Norwegian Krone. The US Dollar is also selling hard as chatter continues to grow that the Fed may soon have no option but to start considering opening the floodgates of money supply by reintroducing QE. Note, both the USD and CAD have also been severely affected by the bail out of carry trades. The Oceanic currency, amid this torrential dripping of negative news have been left out unloved once again, taken to the woodshed after the flash crash as liquidity remains extremely poor. A currency that keeps acting somehow as a ‘bridging’ fiat to diversify into is the Pound, the only one relatively immune to the dynamics at play (risk-off, carry trades) and more exposed to other idiosyncratic drivers such as the trade negotiations between the UK and Europe.