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Fresh records for Wall Street, a weaker US dollar, yields higher, volatility crushed: these were some of the outcomes from a dovish Federal Reserve yesterday as the US central bank resolutely stuck to its guns to let the economy run as hot as it needs to achieve full employment. European stocks moved higher in early trade Thursday but worries about vaccinations and Covid cases weigh. The FTSE 100 still cannot yet sustain a break north of 6,800 and is the laggard, declining a quarter of one percent this morning.  

 

Longer dated paper moved a lot as Powell said the Fed would look past inflation overshooting; US 10-year Treasury yields have shot about 10 bps higher today to above 1.72%, whilst 30s are at their highest in almost two years close to 2.5%. Spreads are at their highest in over 5 years. Stock markets liked it – the Dow Jones industrial average climbed 0.6% to close above 33,000 for the first time. The S&P 500 closed within 25pts of 4,000. The Vix fell under 20. 

 

Tracking the move in US Treasuries, gilt yields rose this morning as markets look to the Bank of England meeting to deliver the next dose of central bank action. It will leave interest rates on hold at 0.1% and the size of the asset purchase programme at £895bn. The success of the vaccine programme – albeit now running into some hurdles – has allowed the Bank to take a more optimistic view of the UK economy beyond Q1 2021. At its February meeting the Old Lady said the UK economy will recover quickly to pre-pandemic levels of output over the course of 2021. It expects spare capacity in the economy to be eliminated this year as the recovery picks up. All this really puts the negative rate conundrum on hold – the next move should be up, if not this year certainly next. Nevertheless, Andrew Bailey stressed earlier this week that the BoE is not concerned by rising yields or temporary inflation blips. So today it will be more about what the BoE doesn’t say. Remaining silent on the rise in bond yields could be the cue for sterling. 

 

What did we learn from the Fed and Jay Powell? Chiefly, the Fed is staying its hand and letting the economy run hot. In a nutshell the Fed said inflation will overshoot but not for long; yields are moving up as part of the cycle as growth improves; and it won’t stop until full employment is achieved along with inflation above 2%. The Fed’s dovishness on monetary policy was contrasted by sharp upgrades to growth and inflation forecasts this year – but the Fed is in a new outcome-based regime focused on absolute employment levels, not on the Philip’s Curve. It also doesn’t really think the sharp bounce back this year is sustainable, meaning now is not the time to remove the punchbowl.

 

Transient: Things like supply bottlenecks and base effects will only lead to a “transient” impact on inflation, according to the Fed. The Fed plans to maintain 0-0.25% until labour market conditions achieve maximum employment and inflation is on course to remain above 2% for a sustained period. A ‘transitory’ rise in inflation above 2% as is seen happening this year does not meet criteria to raise rates. This is where things get dicey vis-a-vis yields since inflation could get a bit big this spring which would pressure (the Fed is immune so far) for hikes sooner. I think also the Fed should be looking around a bit more about where there is clear inflationary pressures and have been for some time, like in asset prices.

 

Stick: It seems abundantly clear that Powell and the Fed see no need and feel no pressure to carry out any kind of yield curve control or Twist-like operation to keep a lid on long-end rates.  This is a steepener move and the market reaction was plain as we saw longer-end yields rise just as the yield on shorter-dated maturity paper declined at first. The 5s30s spread widened around 9bps to 1.66%, whilst 2s10s widened 7bps to 1.5%. 

 

Patient: Is it time to start talking about talking about tapering? “Not yet” came the reply. Which matches expectations – any talk of tapering will not be allowed until June at the soonest when the Fed will have a lot more real data to work with post-vaccinations. That will be things get harder for the Fed as inflation starts to hit. 

 

Outcome-based: Focus on ‘actual’ progress rather than ‘forecast’ progress. This tallies with what know already about the Fed taking a more outcome-based approach to its policy rather than relying on Philip’s Curve based forecasts. The Fed’s rear-view policymaking will let inflation loose. It also means the dots are kind of useless, but nonetheless the lack of movement on dots kept shorter dated yields on a leash, pushing real rates down. The question about what actually constitutes a material overshoot on inflation and for how long it needs to be sustained will be dealt with another day, with Powell admitting the Fed will have to quantify this at some stage. 

 

SLR: Powell kept his cards close to his chest and only said something will be announced on SLR in the coming days. This may involve some kind of soft landing for the exemption to lessen any potential volatility.

 

Long end yields moved higher with curve steepeners doing well. I expect bond yields and inflation expectations to continue to rise over the next quarter – the Fed remains behind the market but this time, crucially, it doesn’t mind. Whilst Powell said the Fed would be concerned by a persistent tightening in financial conditions that obstruct its goal, the difference this time is that stock market stability is not what the Fed is about these days. Post 2008, the Fed fretted about market fragility since that is what caused the recession. Now it’s comfortable with higher yields and won’t be concerned if the stock market is lower from time to time.

 

With the long end of the curve anchored by the Fed’s dovishness, and longer-end yields and inflation expectations moving up, this creates better conditions for gold to mount a fresh move higher, but it first needs to clear out the big $1,760 resistance. MACD bullish crossover on the daily chart below is encouraging for bulls.

Gold needs to clear out the big $1,760 resistance.

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