Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen said on Wednesday that the central bank could begin shrinking its $4.5tn balance sheet “relatively soon“, and while she demurred on a specific date, some analysts have now pegged that announcement for September — although others aren’t so sure.
Over the past few months, analysts have tried to piece together a clearer picture of the Fed’s timing for moving on the three expected interest-rate increases this year, as well as when it intends to start the process of unwinding its massive balance sheet.
On Wednesday, the Fed moved forward with its second rate rise of 2017 and unveiled some details of its plan to shrink the balance sheet that has grown to a massive size in the wake of the financial crisis. That has left analysts to ponder when to expect the Fed’s next moves at its four remaining meetings of the year.
In a note following today’s announcement, Bank of America Merrill Lynch analysts said in a report that they now expect the balance sheet normalisation to begin in September, with the third rate increase of 2017 penciled in for December:
Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in May indicates that the labor market has continued to strengthen and that economic activity has been rising moderately so far this year. Job gains have moderated but have been solid, on average, since the beginning of the year, and the unemployment rate has declined. Household spending has picked up in recent months, and business fixed investment has continued to expand. On a 12-month basis, inflation has declined recently and, like the measure excluding food and energy prices, is running somewhat below 2 percent. Market-based measures of inflation compensation remain low; survey-based measures of longer-term inflation expectations are little changed, on balance.
Consistent with its statutory mandate, the Committee seeks to foster maximum employment and price stability. The Committee continues to expect that, with gradual adjustments in the stance of monetary policy, economic activity will expand at a moderate pace, and labor market conditions will strengthen somewhat further. Inflation on a 12-month basis is expected to remain somewhat below 2 percent in the near term but to stabilize around the Committee’s 2 percent objective over the medium term. Near term risks to the economic outlook appear roughly balanced, but the Committee is monitoring inflation developments closely.
In view of realized and expected labor market conditions and inflation, the Committee decided to raise the target range for the federal funds rate to 1 to 1-1/4 percent. The stance of monetary policy remains accommodative, thereby supporting some further strengthening in labor market conditions and a sustained return to 2 percent inflation.
The US dollar will almost certainly remain the world’s most important reserve currency for the foreseeable future, as no other offers the same set of advantages to money managers, including central banks, or is as deeply embedded in the global financial system. The primary cost to the US is surrendered competitiveness due to dollar appreciation, but lower interest rates and unrivalled government access to funding bestow considerable benefits, ultimately supporting the sovereign’s ‘AAA’ rating.
As the Fed tightens, expect calls for an alternative to US dollar dominance, but no real change.
Congress is the most plausible medium-term threat.
The US dollar’s downside momentum faded today. While one should not read much into it, it could be an early sign that the market has discounted the recent news stream, which includes the fear that the political turmoil in the Washington will adversely impact the President’s economic program, and the continued above trend growth in the eurozone.
The Fed funds futures continue to discount a strong change of a June Fed hike. Bloomberg puts the odds at 95% of a hike, while the CME’s model says it is about 83% discounted. Our calculation puts it at 81%. A June hike would put the Fed funds target range at 1.00%-1.25%.
Although the two-year note is trading a few basis points through the top of the presumed new range, the odds that the Fed funds target range will be 1.25%-1.50% by the end of the year is also rising slowly. Bloomberg sees a 45% chance, up from about 28% a month ago. The CME sees the odds at 39% compared with about 30% a month ago.
European growth remains above trend and the flash May PMIs today suggest another strong quarter. However, price pressures remain elusive. Prices in the PMI fell for the first time in 15 months. To suggest the ECB could hike rates if it weren’t for the low inflation , is like asking, “Besides that Mrs Lincoln, how was the play?”
“I like a low interest rate policy, I must be honest with you,” Donald Trump told the Wall St Journal yesterday. His comments have further fired up already strong US government bonds, with the effects spilling over into European debt this morning. Like their US counterparts, German 10-year bond prices are now around their strongest point of the year.
Mr Trump’s new comments are not the only weight on global bond yields. Among other things, geopolitical nerves and the failure of his healthcare plans have also imposed a longer-term weight.
Still, 10-year Bund yields have sunk by 0.02 percentage points so far today to 0.175 per cent. (Yields fall when prices rise.) That’s the strongest level for Bunds since late December.
US yields, which exert a strong gravitational pull on other core markets, now stand at 2.32 per cent, the lowest since mid-November.
One week after we observed the biggest monthly short squeeze in 10Y TSYs in history, it was a relatively calm week in the longer-end of the Treasury curve.
According to the latest CFTC data, spec net shorts in aggregate Treasury futures was little changed from the previous week at 612K contracts in TY equivalents. While, they continued to pare net shorts in TU and TY by 18K and 14K contracts, respectively, they increased their net shorts in FV and TN by 35K contracts and 6K contracts, respectively. Spec net shorts as share of open interest was unchanged at -5.8% over the week and was at about -2.0 standard deviations away from neutral.
While net Treasury futures shorts are now back to the lowest levels since early December 2016, traders continued to pile into the short-end betting massively on further rate hikes as Eurodollar shorts push on beyond $3 trillion: in the last week specs sold another 73K contracts in Eurodollar futures, taking their net shorts to the seventh successive week of record high of -3,129K contracts.
The stage is set for the first official summit between two of the world’s most powerful leaders as China’s president Xi Jinping travels to Florida to meet his US counterpart Donald Trump next week.
Also competing for investors’ attention will be minutes from the Federal Reserve’s March 14-15 meeting, the second televised debate of the French presidential election and the release of the closely watched US jobs report.
Here is what to watch in the week ahead:
Xi, meet Trump
The leaders of the world’s first- and second-largest economies will meet at Mr Trump’s Florida retreat, Mar-a-Lago, April 6 and 7. According to the official White House release, the agenda will include “global, regional, and bilateral issues of mutual concern”.
That vague description belies the complex backdrop against which the two men will meet. Mr Trump pledged during the presidential campaign to label China a currency manipulator, and within weeks of his election prompted a formal protest from China after his phone call with Taiwan’s leader (Mr Trump has since said he will back the ‘One China’ policy to ease tensions.)