Action shifting to currencies as rates volatility eases
US stocks barely closed higher at the end of last week and flirted with bear market territory. US consumer and retail stocks remain under pressure alongside industrials as recession fears intensify. Indeed while inflation concern remain elevated, recession fears are increasing. US Treasury yields are finally coming off the boil amid such fears, with May seeing a significant pull back in yields; the biggest decline has been in the 3-10 year part of the yield curve over recent weeks. This has been met with a decline in interest rate volatility unlike equity and implied currency volatility measures, which have pushed higher. For instance, major currency implied volatility measures have reached their highest since around March 2020. Emerging markets volatility breached its March 2020 high in March 2022 and after a brief fall is moving back higher.
Action is shifting to currencies and the drop in the US dollar from its highs, with the currency increasingly undermined by lower US yields. In Asia, the 3 most sensitive currencies to yield differentials (US 10 year yield minus 10 year local currency bond yields) are the Thai baht, Indonesian rupiah and Korean won. As such, Korean won is likely to rally the most in Asia should US yields fall further. The Chinese yuan has strengthened amid US dollar weakness though underperformance of the Chinese currency is likely versus its peers as the authorities likely aim to weaken it on a trade weighted (CFETS) basis.
In China, the surprisingly large 15 basis point cut in 5-year loan prime rate last week will be seen as a boon for China’s property market. However, while support for the property market has increased there does not seem to be much more stimulus ready to be unleashed despite various pledges. China’s April data slate was weak highlighting the risks of a contraction in GDP this quarter and providing evidence that the “around 5.5%” official growth target looks increasingly out of reach. COVID restrictions across the country are easing gradually pointing to some pick up in activity though consumption and the service sector are likely to remain under pressure for months to come as mass testing, quarantines and border controls continue to restrict mobility.
There was relief for China’s markets today as President Biden highlighted the potential for a reduction/removal of tariffs implemented by President Trump, stating that he will discuss tariffs with Treasury Secretary Yellen when he returns from his Asia trip. Removing tariffs is by no means a done deal given there will be plenty of pressure to maintain some level of US tariffs on China. A reduction in tariffs would be beneficial for the US in that it would help reduce imported inflation pressures while it would also help to support Chinese exports at a time when they are slowing down and adding pressure on China’s current account position. However, some of this impact would likely be mitigated by a relatively stronger yuan, which would undoubtedly benefit as tariffs were cut.
Key data and events highlight this week include monetary policy decisions in Indonesia (Tue), New Zealand (Wed), South Korea and Turkey (both Thu). Federal Reserve FOMC meeting minutes will also be released (Wed). Although not expected by the consensus there is a good chance that Indonesia hikes policy rates by 25 basis points. In New Zealand a 50bp hike is likely while a 25bp hike in South Korea is expected. In contrast despite pressure on the Turkish lira and very elevated inflation no change in monetary policy is expected in Turkey this week. Meanwhile the Federal Reserve FOMC minutes will provide further detail on how quickly the Fed wants to get to neutral rates and beyond and on its quantitative tightening policy.