US Financial and Monetary Conditions, Yellen, Inflation & Oil, China and RMB

US financial and monetary conditions continue to improve as market indicated real yields remain muted while stocks and other real assets break into higher valuation territory. The S&P 500 has exceeded the 20trn market capitalisation mark on the day when all four major US equity indices reached new historic highs. The advance seems broad-based with cyclicals like financials taking the lead. The stock market trades reflation and, with US markets leading, markets seem to be taking the view that global reflation is centered in the US.

Against this background the Fed’s Yellen will appear before the Senate Banking Committee at 3pm (Ldn) today and the House Financial Services Committee tomorrow. A prepared testimony will be the same both days and will probably be released when the Senate hearing starts but sometimes gets released earlier by the committee. Here Yellen will have to present the Fed’s view which at times has differed from her more dovish attitude. Hence, it is not surprising to see markets walking into these risk events with a relaxed attitude, seeing the Fed hiking only cautiously and not as aggressively as signaled by the median Fed dots. Should Yellen divert from the moderate projection of the interest rate path as currently priced into the market, the USD may rally. This risk is asymmetrically priced leaving us comfortable with our USD long positioning against low yielding currencies EUR and JPY.

Animal spirits are now often mentioned in press reports. The last time the US was experiencing animal spirits goes back to the 90s when James Rubin ran the US Treasury. Then it was the high tech boom driving many asset classes. The stock market started to correlate with retail sales as wealth effects kicked in. We have not yet seen this effect in the US, but with the continued asset rally the likelihood of animal spirits taking over is not insignificant. Last year, it was the shaky international background pushing the USD sharply lower as the Fed eased the markets’ rate expectations via dovish talk. Today even the global environment looks better with EMU economic and political divergence providing the exception.

Inflation and oil. This morning saw China’s PPI growth beating market estimates by a wide margin with rising commodity prices and a strong January base effect providing the main catalysts. US bond yields coming down faster than the Japanese yields may dampen USDJPY, but it does not generally weaken the USD. As long as the reason for lower oil prices is due to higher US oil output the decline of oil may even work in favour of the USD in the long term. Yesterday the US (EIA) reported its oil output increasing by 80k. Oil rigs are on a fast rise as shale companies experience better funding conditions and the ability to sell oil at higher prices.

RMB in focus. According to the WSJ, President Trump’s administration may be considering alternative strategies with regard to currency issues with China. “Under the plan, the commerce secretary would designate the practice of currency manipulation as an unfair subsidy when employed by any country, instead of singling out China, said people briefed on or involved in formulating the policy.” There are two issues coming into our minds. First, the administration hoping China may push USDCNY lower via using its reserves or tightening its own monetary conditions. This strategy comes at relative costs to China and is beneficial for the US. Should this scenario work out then China may switch some of it FX reserves into JPY or EUR even if this comes with potential future FX reserves valuation losses. Secondly, China may turn into an infrastructure investor into the US. Japan seems to already be leaning in this direction. It would help the US in creating jobs while giving China a good investment return for its foreign-held assets. In this scenario the US yield curve would stay steep and the USD strong.