Markets look for direction from ECB, US CPI inflation

Morning Note

European stock markets were again lacking direction ahead of today’s closely awaited ECB meeting and a hotly anticipated inflation reading from the US. The FTSE 100 trades a little higher, the DAX a little lower. Wall Street closed lower with the major indices holding to well-worn ranges. The S&P 500 down 0.4% to 4,219.55 but remains just a few points below its all-time high of 4,238.04 set on May 7th.  

Meme stocks attracted the most interest as Clean Energy Fuels – the fourth most talked about stock on the /Wallstreetbets thread yesterday – rallied 31%. AMC fell 10% and Clover Health dropped 23% after a monster rally in the previous session. Today’s most-discussed stocks include WISH, CLF, WKHS, AMC and TLRY. 

 US inflation reading key risk event

If there is a worry about inflation – today’s US CPI print will tell us a lot – then the bond market is not showing it. US 10yr yields fell under 1.49% to the lowest level in 3 months. This is not just a Fed thing – the yield on longer dated paper such as the 30yr is also well off its 2021 highs. Today’s inflation reading still poses a risk to the market. The annual rate is forecast to climb to 4.7% in May, from 4.2% in April, whilst the core reading is seen at 3.4%, with the month-on-month at +0.4%. With the Federal Reserve anchoring its policy goals to employment, another hot reading won’t be too much to worry about. Nevertheless, the print will still lead to some volatility at 13:30 (BST) in index futures, numerous FX crosses and gold. An above forecast inflation reading would reignite market taper fears, albeit this is likely to be short-lived and one to fade as the Fed still has control of this, at least to the extent that the market believes it does.

ECB set to hold steady for now

The European Central Bank (ECB) convenes today amid a much rosier economic outlook than at the start of the year. But with the central bank having communicated its plans to front-load asset purchases, there is not expected to be any material change in policy or communication. It will be hard to avoid taper talk so how the ECB responds to questions around tapering will be of central importance to the market’s expectations and the euro. At the March meeting the ECB said it would pick up the pace of asset purchases, front-loading the PEPP scheme, but that it could still use less than the full envelope of €1.85tn if favourable financial conditions can be maintained without spending it all. The outcome of the March meeting was very much that the PEPP programme is more likely to end by March 2022 than be extended, albeit policy will remain very accommodative well beyond that point. Today it’s likely the ECB will support continuing running PEPP at around €80bn a month before starting to taper in September. 

Yields have been pressing higher but have retreated from the May peaks. The increased pace of asset purchases that was agreed in March came as a response to rising yields at the time. But the economic outlook – chiefly driven by a strong vaccine rollout that was slow to start but is now firing on all cylinders – has improved greatly since then. The ECB has been taking the line that inflation is temporary and rising bond yields reflect better fundamentals, so I don’t think it will be unduly concerned by a higher rate environment now due to the better economic picture. This will make talk of a taper very difficult to ignore. The language around the speed of asset purchases may change somewhat, and this could drive EZ yields + EUR higher. It will be very interesting to see what the ECB says about the state of financing conditions, and it is sure to continue to tie PEPP purchases to maintaining these as ‘favourable’.  

The big risk for EUR crosses around this meeting is: does the ECB silence taper talk with enough vigour to keep yields in check, or does it allow the market to think the more hawkish voices are winning the argument about when the central bank eventually exits emergency mode? With the ECB seen in a holding pattern, there is quite a low bar for a hawkish surprise.

Inflation has picked up since the last meeting, which could see the forecast for 2021 and 2022 revised upwards from the March level. EZ inflation rose to 2% in May from 1.6% in April, the first time it’s been on target in over two years. With growth in Q1 a little light, the rebound in the summer should mean GDP projections remain broadly unchanged. 

ECB speakers have been offering a few titbits since the last meeting. Of particular importance to the speed at which the ECB will exit emergency mode, Christine Lagarde stressed that inflationary pressures will be temporary – sticking to the global central banker script. At the April meeting she said tapering talk was premature. But she remains caught between the hawks and doves. Kazaks and Lane made it clear policymakers will look at the asset purchase programme again in June, which could involve scaling back the programme if the economic situation is better.  There were dovish comments from Panetta in late May, noting that it was too early to taper bond purchases. Banque de France Governor, Villeroy de Galhau, stressed that the ECB is going to be at least as slow to tighten as the Federal Reserve. 

Finally, London’s IPO market is showing signs of fatigue. Broker Marex has pulled its planned listing, while fuel cell company Elcogen and miner Tungsten have both delayed planned floats. Whilst there may be more to the Marex decision than simply ‘challenging IPO market conditions’, it does rather seem there is some amount of investor fatigue after a deluge of new issuance in the first quarter. Wise to pause. In the case of Marex, it may be wise to steer clear.