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Bear market rally back on?

Wall Street rises as US data outperforms It says something about the level of confusion in the markets right now (American markets anyway), that having…

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This article was originally published by Market Pulse

Wall Street rises as US data outperforms

It says something about the level of confusion in the markets right now (American markets anyway), that having wrung their hands all last about inflation, 100 basis point rate hikes by the Fed, and an impending recession, that strong US Retail Sales and Michigan Consumer Sentiment on Friday saw Wall Street rally impressively. If that data had come out on Tuesday or Wednesday last week, we would probably have had a meltdown. And yet here we are, Wall Street’s S&P 500, Nasdaq and Dow Jones booking roughly 2.0% gains on Friday.

Last Friday’s Wall Street price action was enough to spark risk sentiment rallies on forex markets, led by the usual suspects, the euro and the Australian dollar, although not much love permeated into the Asian currency space. Oil held steady, but gold found no solace and remains near USD 1700.00. We also saw a modest rally in commodity prices. Bitcoin has wound its way back to USD 21,000.00 this morning in the crypto space, although it has been grinding higher all last week. Even US yields fell slightly on Friday after that US data; go figure?

My bear market rally theory postulated on Wednesday, got a beating on Thursday, and now looks quite clever again this morning after another day where Wall Street forgot to take their medication. I’ll stick my neck out again and say that with a relatively thin US data calendar this week, the FOMO gnomes of Wall Street may enjoy a week in the sun. This morning missive is heading into its last two full weeks of life before I head off to pastures new, and one thing I won’t miss is trying to find something intelligent to explain Wall Street’s short-term price actions.

I suspect that Europe and its travails will be front and centre this week, with a smattering of China covid zero and property market nerves thrown in for good measure. The European Central Bank meets on Thursday to decide whether to hike its policy rates for the first time in 11 years, by a mighty 0.25%… That would take the Refinancing Rate to an inflation-fighting 0.25%, and the Deposit Rate to -0.25%, which I am sure will leave the Eurozone CPI quaking in its boots. We should also get some insight into its antifragmentation tool, intended to keep Eurozone sovereign spreads “on message,” but is really there there to support Italy’s debt because they clearly can’t do it themselves if one glanced at the weekend news. Europe is a classic example of the perils of easy monetary policy and QE; it’s easy to take it out of the box, but as you get the financial system addicted to a zero per cent cost of capital, it’s hard to put it back. Europe isn’t alone here of course, and at least they can say “look at Japan.” High fives mes Amis.

The reason we can discount a 0.50% hike from the ECB when that is the minimum clearly needed, is something far more important for Europe. Thursday the 21st is gas-mageddon day for the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany. Scheduled annual maintenance is due to finish that day, and the gas is supposed to start flowing again. I’ll give it another day because it’s Russia. But if flows don’t resume on Friday, that bear market rally by the euro and European equities could well evaporate like the pipeline flows.

About energy, it is pleasing to see that sense is prevailing somewhere, and that Japan is restarting several mothballed nuclear power stations in preparation for the winter. Nations everywhere should be looking at this solution right now. Especially as North America looks as far away as ever from getting its act together on gas and oil, pipelines to move it, and refineries to make it into energy and fertiliser, etc. for the world. Japan’s moves are likely to bear more fruit than US President Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia for a fist pump with MBS this weekend. Mr Biden emerged confident that Saudi Arabia and the UAE would pump more oil; Saudi Arabia emerged and said that’s up to OPEC+. Oil prices are sharply unchanged today in Asia, which tells you who the market believes.

China officials from the PBOC promised more support for the economy over the weekend. And it appears that behind the scenes, the wheels are turning to engineer a funding vehicle for beleaguered property developers to continue and complete the construction of residential projects. The alleged Chinese mortgage payment strike by homebuyers seems to have been the catalyst to spur faster action. Conversely, Covid-19 cases appear to be creeping higher around the mainland, with Macau’s full lockdown extended by four days. The threat of Covid-zero Part Deux in Shanghai and other large urban centres will temper bullish spirits among China equity investors. Robust loan demand, and decent economic data last week should mean that Wednesday’s one and five-year Loan Prime Rates remain unchanged.

Thursday also sees the Bank of Japan’s latest policy decision. With USD/JPY finding a cap ahead of 140.00 for now, some pressure will ease on the BOJ, which will also be watching the country’s supply/demand energy balance and the spiralling Covid-19 caseload with concern. With the FOMC meeting not until the end of the month as well, there is little incentive for the BOJ to spring a shock and for markets to change any monetary settings.

The policy decision from Bank Indonesia, also on Thursday, is far more interesting. With Singapore and the Philippines announcing unscheduled rate hikes last week, and South Korea, Malaysia, and Taiwan hiking rates at recent meetings, it is going to get harder for BI to stand against the wind. With the FOMC expected to hike by at least 0.75% at the end of the month, and Asian currencies wilting under US dollar strength, the uber-dove BI is likely to hike by at least 0.25%. BI is clearly capping USD/IDR at 15,000.00 now, and despite a surging current account surplus as palm oil exports resume, currency pressures are going to force BI’s hand. The question is, is 0.25% enough? I have my doubts.

Like North America and Europe, Asia’s data calendar is fairly thin once you strip out the discussion points above. With the FOMC in a pre-meeting news blackout, markets will be left to the tender mercies of headlines and geopolitical developments. One benefit is that, excluding any shocks and a lack of Fed speaker rate-hike bombs, and annoying data that has to be ignored when it doesn’t tell the story the FOMO gnomes want to hear, it could give the aforementioned bear market rally, room to breathe.

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