Asia Market: Sizzling rally runs into the policy wall of worry

Market Analysis / 6 Min Read
Stephen Innes / 03 Mar 2021

Market highlights 

  • US stocks drop after the sizzling rally ran headlong into the policy wall of worry
  • The sell-off in oil continues, albeit at a less furious pace as worst-case scenarios are likely priced to perfection
  • Unexpectedly large crude build comes at a worrying time as Thursday’s OPEC+ meeting could see major oil producers agree to ease production
  • You don't have to be a bond market vigilante to realize higher US yields are only a matter of time

Markets

US stocks dropped on Tuesday after Monday's sizzling rally ran headlong into the policy wall of worry as investors continued to grapple with inflation concerns and the eventual shifting tides around US Fed policy.

As expectations around the current fiscal stimulus package have gone from grossly underpriced several weeks ago to now being priced for perfection, investors are now beginning to worry about the perpetual stimulus machines of easy monetary policy and fiscal support throttling down. Indeed, last week's bond market volatility and the Fed policy curve's ongoing repricing perfectly illustrates just how chained to the rhythm of easy money policies the market has worryingly become. 

In a rebalancing trend that started last month, high flying tech shares are the first to buckle when droplets of concerns hit the ground form the foreboding gathering of policy thunderheads roiling above. Investor strategy here is to get out of the soup and as far away from high valuation flyers as they possibly can.

It feels like we’re in the eye of the storm before the process of intense policy repricing resumes along the bond curve. Still, there are no US bond auctions this week, and next week’s auctions could see a more orderly outcome as the markets have had time to adjust, but I wouldn’t count my lucky stars just yet as the dreaded bond vigilantes are eager to pounce.

How much overheating and inflation the Biden fiscal stimulus will generate remains at the top of virtually every market conversation. And even though the market looks infinitely calmer, with growth and inflation dynamics as they are, one doesn't necessarily have to be a reflation revenger to think there will be further tests of the Fed resolve.

The Fed is systemically the quintessential Central Bank for global markets. Yet, they adopt the most laissez-faire stance on higher yields while enacting a very expansionary fiscal policy and even welcome the higher yields. Indeed, this is critical in the broader market's purview. If breakevens stabilize around current levels (in a 2-2.5% range) with real GDP growth perhaps clocking 7.5-8.5% this year, real yields will continue to climb.

The bar for the Fed stepping in to slow the move higher in yields has been raised because it is sanguine so far, and vigorous activity and inflation prints in Q2 will make bond market intervention hard to justify. That suggests higher rates volatility, with the past week's experience telling us this will filter through higher volatility in equity, credit and FX markets. If you haven't seen a policy unwinding tornado up close, this could be the year. 

Oil Markets

US oil stockpiles rose last week and product inventories fell sharply in a cause and effect of the cold snap that forced refiners to shut down Texas operations.

The unexpectedly large build in crude inventories comes at a worrying time for oil bulls as major oil producers could agree to ease production cuts at a critical meeting this week amid concerns that demand will likely outstrip supply as the global vaccine-led recovery gathers a head of steam.

But, as importantly, to ensure medium-term success and stability of the OPEC+ initiative and keep peace among members eager to take advantage of higher prices to replenish depleted budgetary coffers due to their fight against Covid-19, additional volumes need to be fed into the global energy machine.

The sell-off in oil continues this morning, albeit at a less furious pace as worst-case scenarios are likely priced to perfection. But I think the recent buckle owes more to general concerns about the potential for this Thursday's OPEC+ meeting. It appears to represent some overdue caution going into the meeting as market participants continue to draw straws and attempt to gauge the likely rise in production.

In addition to the uncertainty surrounding the supply's magnitude coming down the OPEC pipeline, investor jitters manifest around speculation that OPEC+ discussions this week could be contentious.

Oil prices have posted substantial gains in recent weeks, most recently after fully pricing in the impacts of US economic stimulus, combined with more positive vaccine news. However, building concerns point to some caveats and near-term pitfalls for oil prices given worries over faltering Asian demand as inventories remain elevated across the region, likely a direct cause and effect of extending mobility restriction in the area, and an uptick in OPEC+ supply could cap further gains over the short term.

Currency Markets

Equity markets are directionless after Monday’s gains, but with US yields easing and rowing back into calmer waters, there’s seemingly less demand for safe-haven dollars. And when the hard-to-love EUR puts in +80 pips headroom above the 1.2000 range base, you know the dollar just had a rough NY session. 

AUD and NZD have risen alongside the recovery in risk appetite this week. The CAD continues to punch higher as domestic data showed faster-than-expected economic growth, despite oil prices faltering a bit this week. Still, oil prices have exceeded virtually all market expectations and are always on course to move higher as more parts of the global economy reopen for business.

So long as the Fed retains its max-dovish stance with the super dove duo of Powell & Yellen steering the US policy aircraft carriers, it’s challenging to buy the dollar and sell gold at the bottom of the ranges. 

Gold Markets

Gold rose on US dollar weakness, but the million-dollar question remains how much juice remains in the golden tank in the face of higher US yields. You don't have to be a bond market vigilante to realize higher US yields are only a matter of time. The market will continue to fade rallies into the critical 1760-65 range; if that gives way, it will likely be due to a weaker US dollar and or sagging US real yields on a FED push back. 

For more market insights, follow me on Twitter: @Steveinnes123 

The information is not to be construed as a recommendation; or an offer to buy or sell; or the solicitation of an offer to buy or sell any security, financial product, or instrument; or to participate in any trading strategy. Readers should seek their own advice. Reproduction or redistribution of this information is not permitted.

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