Risk gains as Powell signals lower for longer on rates

Equities

Fed chair Jay Powell announced a new monetary policy framework based on average inflation targeting (AIT), as had been anticipated. I read this as admission by the Fed that the monetary and fiscal response to the pandemic will ultimately prove inflationary (M1 increase, deglobalisation etc), but that the Fed does not want to pull the handbrake on a long and slow recovery by being constrained with a mandate to keep inflation level. It’s also increasingly politically tuned into recent events in prioritising jobs over price stability.

Essentially the Fed is taking a step back from price stability, it is not going to worry about inflation overshooting; the focus is on employment not stable money. It’s about supporting the economy not prices – this is an important shift, albeit one that we have largely assumed unofficially to be the case for some time. The Fed today made it clear it won’t take the punch bowl away as quickly as it would have done in the past.

Fed AIT framework leaves unanswered questions

But the Fed is keeping its hands relatively free by not sticking to any specific formula relating to AIT – this poses some unanswered questions for the FOMC. There was not much in the way of detail of how the Fed plans to  deliver the new framework. For instance, if inflation runs at 1% for 5 years, does that mean it allows it to run at 3% for the next 5?

Powell’s speech lacked in specifics on the nature of forward guidance that the FOMC is clearly leaning towards – this will be an important lever of the AIT approach, so it needs to be clarified at the next meeting in September.

Should forward guidance be based on a time horizon or specific economic data? Yield curve control has been shelved as an idea by the FOMC but remains an option should it desire. The September 16th meeting will be of great importance to iron out how AIT will be delivered.

Powell stressed that if ‘excessive inflationary pressures’ were to build, or inflation expectations were to rise above levels consistent with its mandate, the Fed ‘would not hesitate to act’. This gives it a degree of latitude down the line should there be a major inflation overshoot.

Dollar offered, stocks and gold bid

Markets are trying to make sense of the changes. The dollar index sold off initially to 92.40 but pared losses and came back to 93 as US yields started to pick up with 10s back above 0.719% having dipped to 64bps. EURUSD spiked to 1.190 but quickly retreated to 1.180. GBPUSD surged to 1.3280 before coming back in to the round number support.

Stocks rose with Wall Street hitting fresh record highs at the open as AIT is fundamentally supportive of risk assets, entailing as it does lower interest rates for longer. The S&P 500 approached 3,500 for the first time, meaning it’s up 100 points for the week. Gold drove sharply higher to $1976 but retraced as quickly as it rallied to $1940 as yields climbed. The key for the market is what will AIT do to inflation expectations.

Earlier data showed just what a big task the Fed has in getting unemployment back to pre-pandemic levels (3.5%). It’s clear the US still has a very troubled jobs market – initial claims still above 1m, continuing claims only came down a small amount to 14.54m from 14.76m a week before. Q2 contraction in the US was a little less than previously estimated, with the annualised figure coming in at –31.7% vs –32.9% on the first reading.

All eyes on Powell, oil steady in face of Laura

Morning Note

Golf can be bad for your career. Just ask Phil Hogan, the now ex-EU trade commissioner, who’s resigned after a golf dinner in Kildare which fell foul of Ireland’s coronavirus restrictions. Maybe he was testing his eyesight – ‘ah yes, I can see that prawn. I’m safe to go to Claridge’s now’.  Golf hasn’t been this newsworthy since Tiger Woods went for a joy ride.

Global stocks hit a record high as the FTSE All World Index beat its peak set in February. The only word we can use to describe this is ‘liquidity’. It’s simply a result of a huge injection of stimulus and money that has needed to find a home. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq also both notched fresh record highs.

For the most part the path of least resistance is upwards – for global stocks led by the US that is probably true when there is so much liquidity and so little yield. But for the UK market, the path of least resistance seems to be sideways – the FTSE 100 remains anchored to 6,000 and it may take a move in the FX markets to drastically alter its range-bound price action.

Will Powell’s speech live up to expectations?

European indices were flat to slightly negative in early trade on Thursday ahead of Jay Powell’s speech at 14:10 London time. Investors are waiting for the substance of the speech amid expectation he will detail the outcome of the monetary policy framework review (that is the title of today’s speech).

The Fed chair is expected to tee up a new monetary policy framework based around average inflation targeting (AIT), which would let the Fed run the economy as hot as it likes for a longer period. Of course, he may skirt round the details and prefer to use the September FOMC meeting to make a formal announcement.

Expectations are rather high ahead of this speech – there is a potential to underwhelm.

WPP and Hays earnings hopeful, Rolls Royce dives towards one-year low

WPP shares rose 5% after the company reported a 15% drop in life-for-like revenues less pass-through costs in the second quarter but signalled the worst is over for the advertising market. The company also said it is on course to achieve the upper end of the £700-800m cost savings target and declared an interim dividend of 10p.

Trading is improving but lumpy. In July, the LFL revenue less pass-through costs of -9.2% was a steady improvement on Q2 but the performance across markets remains volatile.

Another good bellwether Hays said it’s seen some stabilisation in fees since May and ‘modest’ signs of improvement in permanent hiring. Net fees were down –11% for the year to the end of June, whilst pre-tax profits were –63% lower as a result of a collapse in recruitment due to the pandemic. Shares ticked up 1%.

Even worse news for Rolls Royce; shares slumped over 7% and neared the 52-week low after the engineer reported a £5.4bn loss due to the crippling of civil aviation during the pandemic. It also included a £2.6bn loss from FX hedges. Underlying revenues were down by a quarter. CFO Stepehen Daintith has resigned.

Hurricane Laura in focus for oil markets

Oil prices were steady as Hurricane Laura makes landfall in the US amid significant amount of production and refinery shut ins. The hurricane is at risk of strengthening to a category 5 storm. WTI (Oct) maintained the $43 handle but backed off from a 5-month high.

Yesterday the Energy Information Administration noted a draw of 4.7 million barrels last week, but oil inventories remain 15% above the average for this time of year.

The market reaction has been rather muted by the fact inventories are unseasonably high and demand is down compared to last year. Whilst more than 80% of Gulf of Mexico crude production has been shut in, stocks at Cushing at 25% above the five-year average, and distillates are 24% above average.

One further note on yesterday’s inventory data relating to travel and the airlines – over the four weeks to Aug 21st jet fuel product supplied was down 45.7% compared with the same four-week period last year.

FTSE comes under pressure ahead of Powell speech tomorrow

Morning Note

Stocks in Europe chopped sideways after fresh records were set on Wall Street and traders start to turn their attention to Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell’s speech tomorrow.  Tuesday saw risk appetite go off the boil after a strong start to the European session – the FTSE 100 ended sharply lower while the DAX closed at the session low to end flat on the day.

The timid recovery across European bourses has left the rally in the US looking even more impressive. A pullback in Apple shares did hit the Dow – it won’t have such a big effect come Monday when its weighting will fall with the stock split (the Dow Jones is a price-weighted index). Shares in ExxonMobil, Pfizer and Raytheon all fell as they were given their marching orders from the index, while their replacements – Honeywell, Amgen and Salesforce.com – all rose sharply. The S&P 500 rose 0.36% to a new all-time high.

The FTSE 100 has endured a tough 24 hours – having hit a high yesterday morning near 6,180, this morning the blue-chip index is testing the 6,000 support. Last week’s low at 5,948 is yet to be tested again, however, and bulls will be hopeful that a base is forming and the near-term downtrend off the June highs is ending. If the dollar weakens further and sterling rallies, this support level could go.

Data today is light – US durable goods orders forecast at +4.4% and +1.9% core, which would be a sharp slowdown from last month’s +7.6% (+3.6% core). The weekly EIA crude oil inventories report is also coming later today.

Oil rises as API data reveals forecast-beating draw, Hurricane Laura approaches

WTI rose on a bigger than expected API draw as well as concerns about Hurricane Laura affecting supply. The American Petroleum Institute (API) reported crude oil inventories fell 4.5 million barrels for the week ending August 21st, after a 4.3m barrel draw the previous week. The forecast for the EIA figures today is for a draw of 3.4m. WTI (Oct) rallied for the best part of yesterday to test the $43.50 resistance where it immediately backed off.

Crude prices continue to grind higher as the economic data continues to indicate a slow recovery.

Central bank speeches in focus as markets eye virtual Jackson Hole symposium

Andy Haldane, the Bank of England’s chief economist and leading V-shaped recovery proponent, will speak later. His optimistic attitude the economic recovery is at odds with many.

The real focus on the central bank front this week though is the virtual Jackson Hole Symposium and Jay Powell’s speech tomorrow as US cash equity markets open. Expectations are running high: Powell is set to use this to deliver a shift in the way the Fed approaches inflation, sending a dovish message to the market that the central bank is in this for as long as it takes. The lack of fresh fiscal stimulus only makes the Fed likely to be more dovish.

Essentially, we think the Fed will signal explicitly it is prepared to allow inflation to run hot for longer with a new average inflation target. All this means is the Fed will be lower for longer. This should support risk and could weigh on the US dollar, but there is a risk that inflation expectations can start to become unanchored as they did in the 1970s.

If inflation spikes and the Fed lets it by continuing to keep yields down, stocks and gold should be the main beneficiaries. The vast increase in the supply of money combined with major supply chain readjustments and reshoring taking place against the backdrop of US-China trade tensions, suggests a bout of inflation is around the corner when a vaccine arrives and the real recovery takes hold, despite the initial disinflationary effects from the pandemic.

Will Powell speech hit the dollar?

The US dollar has marched lower since its March blowoff. But lately there have been signs of a base forming around the 92-93 level for the dollar index. An aggressively dovish message from Powell this week could see this support tested initially, but we should also bear in mind that average inflation targeting without, for example, yield curve control, could create a much steeper yield curve (i.e. higher long end yields) in tandem with higher inflation expectations, which could support USD in the longer term. US 10 year yields have already start to move higher, rising to 0.7%.

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