Bank of England wheels for fresh charge

Morning Note

Central banks need to be marshalled like cavalry and stimulus like charges. If your stimulus doesn’t rout the enemy immediately, you can easily get bogged down in a melee in which you lose your advantage. The Federal Reserve keeps wheeling around and managing to rally troops for fresh charges – the corporate bond buying announcement this week was a fine example.

But increasingly the cavalry is wearying and the more this drags on the less impact the Fed’s repeated charges will have against the twin enemies of deflation and unemployment. Investors are clinging on to central bank stimulus like the Gordon Highlanders gripped the stirrups of the Scots Greys, as they rode down the French columns at Waterloo.

BoE preview: more QE on the way

The Bank of England will mount a fresh charge at the enemy formations today. Coordination is the name of the game: it needs to keep on top of the huge amount of issuance – borrowing – by the UK government. Wartime levels of debt means the BoE must expand the envelope to hoover it up or risk yields starting to rise and spreads widening.

So, the BoE is expected to increase QE by at least £100bn, but I think it may well opt for £200bn, or even more, given that even £100bn would only last it until the end of the summer and the real long-term economic problems are going to emerge later in the autumn. Interest rates will stay at 0.1% and expectations firmly anchored for the near future with forward guidance repeating that the Bank will do whatever it takes.

In order to achieve this, the government and central bank will need to coordinate throwing more money at the problem. Indications suggest furlough has been costly but only delayed a lot of the pain – a looming unemployment crisis will require further central bank support, which means more QE is likely.  And don’t talk about negative interest rates – Andrew Bailey mentioned it once, but I think he got away with it. Once you go negative, it’s very hard to get back to normal.

Whilst fresh forecasts are not due until August, the Bank will likely set a more defensive tone in terms of its expectations for the recovery. As noted here on May 7th (BoE: for illustrative purposes only) the Bank’s assumptions on economic recovery seem rather optimistic.

Sterling was steady ahead of the decision. GBPUSD held around the middle of its trading range, sitting on the 38.2% retracement of the bottom-to-top rally from the May low to the Jun high. Monday’s test of the 1.2450 (50% level) remains the support whilst the upside seems well guarded by the 200-day moving average just above 1.2690 that sparked the run lower since Tuesday.

Stocks on the back foot on fears of second Covid-19 wave

Wall Street stocks fell yesterday, except for tech, whilst European markets are on the back foot this morning as investors parse new cases in the US and China. The bulls lost energy as new hospitalisations in Texas due to Covid-19 rose 11% in the space of 24hrs. Several other US states are seeing rising cases that are a worry, albeit the kind of mass lockdown seen earlier this year appears an unlikely course of action. The economic damage is too high, and we are generally better equipped to handle it.

Worries about China are also important – markets had largely not bet on a second lockdown in the world’s second largest economy.

Overall, the market swings now suggest investors are reacting to various headlines about recovery, stimulus and new cases without much clear direction as to what it all means as a bigger picture. The major indices are right in the middle of recent trading ranges, sitting around the 50-60% retracements of the move from the multi-month highs at the start of last week to the swing lows this week.

Elsewhere, the US pulled out of talks with Europe over a global digital services tax, which raises the risk of individual countries taking their own steps, in turn sparking a fresh wave of US-EU tensions. An escalation of dormant trade wars is not out of the question if EU nations and the UK decide to tax US tech giants aggressively.

This comes of course after the EU launched an anti-trust probe into Amazon. In Europe, Germany passed additional fiscal stimulus to combat the pandemic costs. This morning Angela Merkel called on the EU to agree to the Covid fund before the summer break.

Crude steady on EIA inventories data

Crude prices were steady as they hold within the consolidation pattern printed since the start of June. WTI for August was holding around the $38 marker after the EIA inventories rose 1.2m barrels, vs expectations for a draw.

This matched the API data (+3.9m) and suggests there are more supply-side pressures at present, but OPEC data indicated demand not falling as much as previously expected in the second half of the year. Meanwhile it seems Iraq is working its way towards complying with OPEC+ cuts.