The ECB is not anywhere near the exit of its expansionary monetary strategy as highlighted by a report suggesting that the ECB has been concerned by the recent rise of EMU bond yields. In particular, higher yields in EMU peripheral bonds seem unwelcome, in line with our own view suggesting that within the ‘rule-like’, one-rate-fits-all monetary union with little fiscal integration, it is the credit risk driving monetary conditions. Effectively, diverging credit risks have loosened monetary conditions in Germany and tightened conditions in Italy. The weakening Italian credit suggests the ECB may lean its monetary strategy to accommodate Italy, hoping that the resulting monetary boom in EMU’s low credit risk countries spills over into the periphery.
Yesterday’s report released by Reuters specifically cited the tweak in the ECB interest rate statement axing a reference to being ready to ‘act with all available instruments’. The ECB wanted to hint that tail risks have eased, but it did not want to signal that it is heading towards the exit. EURUSD topped near 1.0906 last week ahead of our 1.0925 key resistance level now facing the risk of breaking lower testing the 1.05/04 support. Note, bullish EUR recommendations have swamped the marketplace over recent weeks, and our positioning tracker shows EUR positioning is now long, suggesting de-positioning activity putting EURUSD under additional selling pressure.
The Fed should continue hiking rates over the course of this year with the debate within the FOMC leaning either towards three or four rates hikes for this year. Comments by Fed’s Williams and Rosengren (non-voters) put this projected rate hike path in the context of current US economic momentum and not based on the prospect of additional policy stimulus by the new US administration. The ‘Trump fade’ would be a big issue if the US economy were to still deploy a large output gap. US consumer confidence has reached levels last seen in the late 90s when James Rubin, the inventor of the ‘strong USD’ mantra, was Treasury Secretary, and the labour market has shown increasing signs of tightness. Interestingly, booming US economic data stand against low and falling Presidential popularity rates. Normally, political and economic support move hand in hand. Their divergence may provide another indication that the output gap-closing US economy has developed ‘animal spirits’ which may no longer need political encouragement.
Meanwhile, the CPI-adjusted US 10-year yield has declined to -0.3%,now running at a similar level witnessed in Japan which is experiencing a 20-year deflation history. We ascribe the low reading of the US real yield to the new ‘availability of capital’ driven by US banks pushing their assets into higher yielding environments. Excess of bank capital and better balance sheet structure allow US banks to deploy a higher VaR. Banks with USD deposits bought short-term JGBs and swapped them back into USD, securing the basis spread as a profit. Japanese investors buying US Treasuries and increasing FX hedges helped US bond yields and the USD to move lower, allowing US real yields to fall against the strong economic uptrend.