The euro climbed to its strongest level against the dollar since mid-February as the markets reassessed the odds of a December rate rise by the European Central Bank.
A day after mildly hawkish comments from European Central Bank president Mario Draghi helped send the single currency higher, the euro tacked on another 0.9 per cent to hit a three week high of $1.0673 following a report that the ECB had discussed whether rates could rise before it ends its bond buying programme.
However, two people familiar with the discussions denied there had been any meaningful debate over the issue. One person said some members are keen for the council to consider raising the deposit rate, now at minus 0.4 per cent, before it ends its quantitative easing programme.
The ECB plans to keep on buying bonds until the end of this year, and is considered likely to extend the programme into 2018 — though at a slower pace than the current level of €60bn a month.
Against the pound, the euro was up 1 per cent at €1.1393 – a level last seen in mid-January. The currency also firmed more than 1 per cent against the Japanese yen at 122.83.
Bill Gross, the bond manager, on Thursday renewed his warning that high levels of debt across the world pose a rising risk of derailing the global economic expansion.
The portfolio manager at Janus Capital said that “our highly levered financial system is like a truckload of nitro glycerin on a bumpy road”.
Mr Gross noted that the world economy has generated more debt relative to gross domestic product than it did ahead of the 2008 financial crisis. Credit across the US economy of $65tn equates to 350 per cent of GDP, while China’s leverage ratio has doubled over the past decade to nearly 300 per cent, he noted.
The so-called ‘bond king’ said that while the world economy and financial market continue to chug along — with global equity prices near all-time highs — sudden changes in interest rates could spark a damaging shock.
“If rates are too high (and credit as a per cent of GDP too high as well), then potential Lehman black swans can occur,” he said.
“On the other hand, if rates are too low (and credit as a per cent of GDP declines), then the system breaks down, as savers, pension funds and insurance companies become unable to earn a rate of return high enough to match and service their liabilities.”
In a report released this morning by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development titled “Will risks derail the modest recovery? Financial vulnerabilities and policy risks” the OECD warns the global economy may not be strong enough to withstand risks from increased trade barriers, overblown stock markets or potential currency volatility, and adds that the “disconnect between financial markets and fundamentals, potential market volatility, financial vulnerabilities and policy uncertainties could derail the modest recovery.“
The OECD projects global GDP growth to pick up modestly to 3½ per cent in 2018, from just under 3% in 2016, boosted by fiscal initiatives in the major economies, a forecast which is broadly unchanged since November 2016 and notes that while confidence has improved, “consumption, investment, trade and productivity are far from strong, with growth slow by past norms and higher inequality.“
Following Yellen’s speech which did not throw any curve balls to this week’s sharply revised, hawkish narrative by her FOMC peers, a March rate hike – according to Goldman – appears to be in the books. In a note moments ago by Goldman’s Jan Hatzius, the investment bank said that the bottom line is that “Fed Chair Yellen said today that a rate increase at the March FOMC meeting “would likely be appropriate”, as long as incoming data continue to confirm officials’ outlook. We see this as a strong signal for action at the upcoming meeting, and have raised our subjective odds of a hike to 95%.”
Goldman’s key points:
1. In remarks this afternoon, Fed Chair Yellen indicated a readiness to raise the funds rate at the FOMC’s March 14-15 meeting in fairly explicit language. She said that as long as “employment and inflation are continuing to evolve in line with” officials’ expectations, “a further adjustment of the federal funds rate would likely be appropriate”. As a result, we now see a hike at the March meeting as close to a done deal, and have raised our subjective probability to 95%.
2. The remainder of Chair Yellen’s speech focused on the Fed’s post-crisis monetary policy strategy in general, and did not discuss incoming data in much detail. However, given constructive comments about current economic conditions from many Fed officials this week—including from Vice Chair Fischer at today’s US Monetary Policy Forum—we think committee members will see recent news as consistent with their outlook, and therefore supportive of further tightening. At this stage, the February employment report—to be released next Friday—may have more bearing on the committee’s guidance about action after the March meeting than on its decision whether to hike this month.
While in recent weeks there has been a material increase in Fed balance sheet normalization chatter, according to a new report from Deutsche Bank analysts, it may all be for nothing for one simple reason: should the US encounter a recession in the next several years, the most likely reaction by the Fed would be another $1 trillion in QE, delaying indefinitely any expectations for a return to a “normal” balance sheet.
As a reminder, as of this month, the duration of the latest expansionary cycle – as defined by the NBER – has reached 93 months, surpassing the 92 months of the 1982-1990 cycle, and is now the third longest in history. Should the cycle persist for another 27 months, or just under two and a half years, it would be the longest period of “economic growth” in history.
A novel dilemma for the European Central Bank to contend with: above target inflation.
Prices in the single currency area have climbed by 2 per cent on the year for the first time in over four years, posing a fresh headache for the ECB’s dovish policymakers who will mark their two-year quantitative easing anniversary next week.
At the ECB’s latest meeting next Thursday, president Mario Draghi will face the task of convincing his more hawkish colleagues that the current leap in annual prices – from 1.8 per cent in January – is unlikely to be sustained having been driven by volatile energy costs. The central bank, which has been battling with more than three years of low prices, targets inflation of just under 2 per cent.
Here’s what analysts are making of Mr Draghi’s dilemma.
Despite the recent upsurge in inflation driven by higher oil prices Pete Vanden Houte at ING thinks inflation will begin to stabilise over the coming months. If anything, he says the ECB will opt to let inflation run above target to compensate for years of weak prices:
There is little doubt that the ECB will continue to be criticized for its loose monetary policy, especially in the core countries. But the bank will no doubt recall that the inflation target has to be reached over the medium term and for the whole of the Eurozone. If anything the ECB is more likely to err on the side of inflation, to compensate for the fact that consumer price increases have significantly undershot the ECB’s target for now 4 years in a row.
We therefore don’t see any change in monetary policy this year. However, in the third quarter, the ECB might announce its exit strategy, which in our view will probably entail a new extension of the QE program until mid-2018, but with some tapering included.
The odds of a March rate increase jumped to 70 per cent on Tuesday after the influential head of the New York Federal Reserve said the case for policy tightening had become “a lot more compelling”.
Bill Dudley said in a interview with CNN International, the television network, that data released over the past couple of months have shown that the US economy is on a solid trajectory, and the central bank is more confident now that it will continue to brighten.
“It seems to me that most of the data we’ve seen over the last couple months is very much consistent with the economy continuing to grow at an above-trend pace, job gains remain pretty sturdy, inflation has actually drifted up a little bit as energy prices have increased,” he said, according to a transcript posted by CNN.
Mr Dudley, who votes on the Fed’s policy-setting board, added that he reckons fiscal policy will “probably move in a more stimulative direction” — an allusion to the tax reductions and infrastructure spending push promised by US President Donald Trump.
For a majority of China watchers, while Beijing’s goalseeked GDP reports are largely dismissed as politburo propaganda, most of the attention falls on the PBOC and banking sector’s credit creation, and particularly, how this translates into broad money supply, or M2, growth: after all, in a nation which has roughly $35 trillion in bank assets, the biggest variable is how much cash is being injected into the system, and what happens with said cash.
Which is why a Reuters report overnight that China plans to target broad money supply growth of around 12 percent in 2017, down from 13 percent in 2016, has been promptly noted as the latest signal to contain debt risks while keeping growth on track. The M2 growth target was endorsed by leaders at the closed-door Central Economic Work Conference in December, according to sources with knowledge of the meeting outcome.
As a reminder, yesterday even the NY Fed released a note in which central bank researchers warned about the unsustainability of Chinese debt. Under the PBOC’s new “prudent and neutral” policy, the central bank has adopted a modest tightening bias in a bid to cool torrid credit expansion, though it is treading cautiously to avoid hurting the economy.
“It’s not necessary to maintain last year’s high money supply growth,” said a source who advises the government. “A money supply rise of 11 percent should be enough for supporting growth, but we probably need to have some extra space, considering risks in the process of deleveraging.”
In 2016 China’s money supply target was 13%, roughly double the country’s GDP , though it ultimately grew just 11.3% due to the effects of the central bank’s intervention to support the yuan currency, which effectively drained yuan liquidity from the economy. Last year’s M2 target reflected Beijing’s focus on meeting its economic growth targets, but top leaders have pledged this year to shift the emphasis to addressing financial risks and asset bubbles.
The introduction of negative interest rates a year ago by the Bank of Japan is prompting listed companies here to funnel the money they save on borrowing costs toward takeovers and capital investment.
The average borrowing rate of 1,387 nonfinancial companies listed on the first section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange and which released their third-quarter results by December 2016 has shrunk to an estimated 1.06%, down 0.11 percentage point from a year earlier. Interest-bearing debt has increased nearly 1 trillion yen ($8.84 billion) to about 207 trillion yen, while interest payment costs have fallen 10% to about 1.63 trillion yen. Some 30% of the companies have increased their borrowings.
Telecommunications giant SoftBank Group is one of the companies that has benefited the most from negative interest rates. Chairman and CEO Masayoshi Son bought British chip designer ARM Holdings for about 24 billion pounds ($29.8 billion) at the current rate in 2016 and has announced other bold global plans.
SoftBank’s interest-bearing debt has jumped 16%, or about 1.9 trillion yen, to a little more than 14 trillion yen over the past year. However, its average borrowing rate — obtained by dividing interest payment costs by average interest-bearing debt — was 3.53%, down 0.18 percentage point.
Negative interest rates have also lowered borrowing costs for corporate bonds. Borrowing costs for SoftBank seven-year bonds issued in April 2016 were 1.94% per annum, 0.19 percentage point lower than the cost for the seven-year bonds it issued six months earlier.