Category Archives: Economics

US rates: Is Yellen set to spoil the party for commodities?

This week, Mike van Dulken from Accendo Markets looks into his crystal ball ahead of Janet Yellen’s speech on Friday…

All eyes (and ears) will be on her majesty the US Fed chair Janet Yellen this Friday, when she delivers what could be major market-moving speech at the Kansas City Fed Economic policy symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It is hoped that her talk will include hints (both clear and, of course, cryptic) about the path for US monetary policy. This is because the US Federal Reserve is the only major central bank fortunate enough to be in the position of being able to tighten policy post-crisis. And the reach and influence of the world’s reserve currency (the US Dollar) is far and wide as commodity traders well know.

Fed members have sounded hawkish of late, suggesting a rate hike might indeed be warranted sooner than markets are pricing in, but the US dollar remains well off its summer highs. In fact, it’s not far from its summer lows with a rising trend of support going back four months. We believe this provides Yellen with the breathing space she needs to take a rather hawkish tone, without it resulting in so much US dollar strength that it actually prevents her and her committee from voting for another hike in September.

We still see September as highly unlikely. Even December to us is off the cards when you take into account political event risk on both sides of the Atlantic (Trump stateside; Spain and Italy in Europe). Yes, there are US data points suggesting a US rate hike could be due, but surely not while other central banks are doing the polar opposite. The European Central Bank is widely expected to add to stimulus on 8 September while the Bank of England updates us on 15 Sept and the Bank of Japan could move again towards the end of next month.

Don’t forget that every step the latter group takes to ease policy further, which serves to weaken their own currencies, has the offsetting effect of strengthening the US dollar. A US rate hike, or a strong hint of one being imminent, therefore represents a risk for Yellen. It will potentially send the US dollar much higher than the Fed might be comfortable with, thus becoming a hindrance for exporters. Even if it gives consumers more bang for their buck in terms of imports.

The Fed has been at pains to hammer home a message of a ‘slow and gradual’ pace of future hikes, aiming to keep the US dollar index from returning to flirt with the 100 mark it traded around at the beginning of December and end of January. Would it risk sending it back there? Yellen is still having to tread the fine line between countering market complacency about low rates forever while simultaneously prepping traders for another eventual US hike. Not an easy job.

Economic barometer copper is already back testing July lows. We wonder whether a hawkish tone this Friday could serve to deliver a real dent to the commodity space, with a negative knock-on for the FTSE’s mining contingent. We already see the red-metal and others (aluminium, oil) putting raw material-focused names on the back foot this morning as a result of last night’s US dollar rebound. Could these trends become rather unwelcome friends?

This commentary was provided exclusively for Hot Commodity by Accendo Markets: https://www.accendomarkets.com.

The Bank of England’s QE hurdle shows the economy needs more than stimulus

This week, Augustin Eden from Accendo Markets tells Hot Commodity why the Bank of England’s QE troubles show the UK economy needs more than stimulus to boost consumer confidence…

Some awkward moments for the Bank of England over the last couple of days have again hit confidence in the ability of central banks to sort out economies when things turn sour. The UK’s central bank was unable to buy all the gilts (UK government bonds) it wanted when pension funds decided they didn’t want to sell – and why would they? Pension funds are the most risk averse of investors, required to have a virtually guaranteed stream of income to use to pay peoples’ pensions as and when the time comes.

Interest rates on government debt are now being driven towards zero – some shorter dated gilt yields have even dipped negative in the last two days. What will the pension funds do with the cash anyway? They’ll probably try to buy more bonds or even invest in defensive equities, but equities are riskier. Trying to encourage pension funds to take more risk is a dangerous move and, importantly, is something you can’t cloak in the smoke and mirrors of technical jargon. Listen to a central bank press conference and there’s little to be gleaned by those who aren’t versed in economics or market speak, but anyone can work out what it means for pension funds to take more risks – it means their pensions are at risk.

Likewise, everyone can understand what it means when pension funds can’t find the guaranteed income they need. Again, pensions are at risk. A healthy economy does of course depend on business confidence – if there’s plenty of cash in the system and it’s cheap to borrow, then you may as well spend and invest. But business confidence depends on consumer confidence, and I would argue that the latter is more immediate.

This throws up a major issue. If people are worried about their pensions – the one thing they should be able to rely on – then they’re not confident. If quantitative easing and other economic stimulus measures are not increasing consumer confidence then we have a problem. When you look at somewhere like Japan whose government and central bank have been engaged in stimulus activities for years and whose economy is still merely limping along, it could soon be time to start thinking about simply putting money directly into people’s pockets.

This commentary was produced exclusively for Hot Commodity by Accendo Markets: https://www.accendomarkets.com.

US interest rates: Ignore the scaremongers, non-farm payrolls aren’t enough to derail Yellen

When Janet Yellen speaks in Philadelphia later today, everyone will have just one question on their minds – when will the US Federal Reserve next raise interest rates?

Fed members had been hinting at another rate hike over the summer, but equities are today trading higher – and the dollar is weaker – in anticipation of no change over the summer months, following last Friday’s highly disappointing non-farm payroll (jobs) numbers.

Official data on Friday showed that the US economy added 38,000 jobs last month – the fewest in more than five years – which pushed back expectations of a rate rise until later in the year.

But NFP data is a very small part of the story – and Fed chair Yellen knows it. The surprisingly low figure has been seen as an anomaly by some market commentators, contrasting with broader signs of a US economic recovery.

“Something about the NFP numbers don’t add up for me, when you compare them to more positive recent data such as regional reports from the Beige Book,” said Kully Samra, managing director of Charles Schwab in London.

“Two Fed members have already implied that the figures were an anomaly and I expect Yellen will do the same. I don’t think the NFP data would change the stance of the Fed.”

Perhaps a bigger factor in the expected no-change result at the 15 June meeting of US policymakers is the imminent risk of Brexit, ahead of Britain’s EU referendum vote on 23 June.

“I was amazed as to the degree of importance the Fed puts on the EU referendum,” said Samra. “It was mentioned in the minutes of the last meeting due to its potential impact on the global financial markets.”

Augustin Eden, research analyst at Accendo Markets, agreed. “Suffice to say that a US rate hike seems unlikely either in June or July given the iffy print and added headwinds provided by an intensifying Brexit whirlwind,” he said.

“[But] there remains an outside chance the FOMC will act despite the dire jobs number – it was after all just one number – since to do so would at least signal that US economic conditions are right and that the Federal Reserve is not hiding anything from us.”

While a rate rise now looks more likely later in the year, this should not simply be put down to the NFP number and certainly does not mean the US economy is doing badly. It’s actually faring pretty well, the Fed just needs to convince the markets, as Samra explains.

“There is a difference between where the Fed and where the market wants rates to be,” he said. “Rates have been low for so long and there is a disparity about how strong the economy is.

“It’s all about the consumer – they’re at the heartbeat of the domestic economy,” he added. “Data shows they are continuing to spend and they’re slowly borrowing more. The US is the strongest developed economy. It’s forecast to grow at well over two per cent this year.”

If it’s a boom period, why are we not feeling any richer?

As a financial journalist, assessment of where we are in the economic cycle is inevitable in most conversations I have through work.

Recently, industry professionals have casually thrown in statements such as “we’re due another recession” and “they’ve only been through a boom period” when talking about new businesses.

When people talk about this year’s global market turmoil slowing down the UK’s recovery, it evokes images of some sort of financial Mardi Gras that we’ve all been enjoying, soon to be curtailed by drama in the commodities market and political crises in Russia and the Middle East.

While I accept that the statistics support these assertions, it somehow jars from a personal finance perspective.

It comes down to two things: wage growth and property prices. Growth of pay packets slowed to 1.9 per cent in December, down from a high of 3.3 per cent last summer.

Property prices are ballooning in London and rising fast in other parts of the country, namely due to a supply shortage and population growth. Average UK prices hit a 10-month high in February, according to Nationwide.

Yes, interest rates are likely to remain low due to the imminent threat of a China-led global economic meltdown, but what use is a low borrowing rate if you can’t afford to save for a deposit or pay off a mortgage in the first place? Add into the mix the tightening of the credit market and it would be easy to see how one would miss the fact that we’re allegedly in a boom period.

The threat of a continued commodities rout, geo-political woes in the Middle East and China’s economic slowdown may be keeping George, Mark and the rest of the financial elite awake at night, but for the rest of us, it’s business as usual.

Good news! The US economic revival is definitely on its way

This week, Mike van Dulken and Augustin Eden from Accendo Markets tell Hot Commodity why the US is on the up…even if the rest of the world isn’t.

Equity markets went to town yesterday on positive US data and hopes of more stimulus from the European Central Bank (ECB) and China’s People’s Bank of China (PBoC). Yet this is surely supporting the case for the US Federal Reserve to deliver further interest rate hikes this year – something likely to stifle US growth.

So was the market reaction simply increased confidence in the US economic recovery, coupled with a realistic belief the Fed won’t dare hike this year for fear of a repeat of January’s volatility? This should maintain a nice accommodative tilt to global monetary policy to spur economic recovery elsewhere.

US interest rates have risen only a touch to regain 0.5 per cent and equal the historic lows of its peer across the pond – the UK’s Bank of England (BoE). However, US macro data has blown too hot and cold since then for the Fed’s Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) to be comfortable hiking again anytime soon. Mixed Fed chat of late, with some quite noticeable changes of heart by long-term committee hawks (Bullard), adds to our belief.

With markets already building up to Friday’s US Non-Farm Payroll numbers, it’s worth noting that jobs data has been anything but a worry for the Fed for a good while now, with net monthly additions averaging around 225,000 since 2013. Unemployment at 4.9 per cent remains in a downtrend towards 10 year lows, but wage growth is still lacking.

News that US Q4 2015 GDP growth was revised up to one per cent quarter-on-quarter from 0.4 per cent last week was welcomed by markets, but it still showed a slowdown from previous quarters.

US Consumer Price Inflation (CPI) expectations have also faded quite dramatically (just 1.4 per cent for the next decade, suggestive of another oil price plunge), and sit way below the Fed’s two per cent target. Core CPI figures (excluding food & energy) may have accelerated back to target but for this to hold up oil prices must fall no further, allowing the influence of their 2014 price plunge to dissipate.

So aside from the fact that Friday’s US jobs figures are sure to deliver the traditional monthly market volatility, for us it will only serve to bolster confidence in the US economic revival. Good news. This in turn may further support the case for policy normalisation, but it’s not going to be enough for the Fed to consider the stars truly aligned for another press of the big red button. Even better news for risk appetite. Enjoy the first Friday’s usual fun ‘n’ games, but other data is far more important.

This commentary was provided exclusively for Hot Commodity by Accendo Markets: www.accendomarkets.com.

President Trump could put UK exports in jeopardy

The UK’s biggest export partner could be put in jeopardy if Donald Trump were elected President of the United States.

The controversial Republican candidate has suggested putting an eye-wateringly high tariff of 35 per cent (or more!) on imported goods in the US, in a bid to boost home-grown US industry.

His comments seem predominantly aimed at the Chinese market, but if a tariff were wielded on all exports to the US, this could have a marked effect on the UK economy.

The UK exported around £37.4bn-worth of goods to the US in 2014, equating to 12.7 per cent of the UK’s goods exports, according to data from economic think tank Capital Economics. When combining goods and services, the US made up 16.4 per cent of our export market that year – a hefty chunk not to be sniffed at.

Economists have widely condemned Trump’s protectionist policies, arguing that the cost of tariffs would be passed on to US consumers in the form of higher prices. But of course, they could have some of their desired effect and prompt US businesses to choose domestic goods where they have the option.

The UK export market has enough to worry about at the moment, with a potential Brexit and all the uncertainty around EU trade levies that would bring. Getting Trump-ed (geddit?) for crucial exports in the US could have a devastating effect.

Furthermore, by pushing US consumer prices up and squeezing the labour force (by removing illegal immigrant workers and discriminating against legal ones), some think that Trump’s policies could cause a major downturn in the US economy. As the old adage says, when the Dow Jones sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold…

Are you hoping Trump comes up trumps or are you hanging on for Hillary? Email your thoughts to Hot Commodity at info@hotcommodity.co.uk for the chance to have your comments appear on the blog and win a luxury holiday for two (except not the last bit).

Other people’s money: why the Bank of England needs to raise rates

Legal and General Investment Management’s chief economist has urged the Bank of England to start raising rates, amid fears of an impending consumer debt crisis.

“So many UK customers are on variable rate mortgages – more than in the US,” said Tim Drayson. “I think it’s important to get the process of rate rises underway and normalise it, as the longer you leave it, people will take on more debt…then you’ve got potential for a harder landing.”

“Unsecured credit is starting to get frothy again,” he warned. “There is scope to use macroprudential tools…[but] interest rates is one way of doing this and getting in to all the cracks [of the financial system].”

The Bank of England base rate has remained at 0.5 per cent for more than six years. Doves argue that it should stay this way due to low inflation figures, while hawks say that wage growth and excessive lending need to be addressed.

Drayson said that LGIM is “more hawkish than the market”, although he commented that the UK “is a bit of a wildcard” as its growth depends greatly on whether commodity prices recover or not.

Brent crude is currently lingering at around $43 a barrel, with the $115 of summer 2014 but a distant dream. LGIM attributes the decline to an increase in supply, rather than a slowdown in industrial production in China and the eurozone.

ECB’s QE plan is widening gap between rich and poor, but it has no choice

The European Central Bank is set to announce whether it wants to extend its quantitative easing programme in the eurozone this Thursday. Andreas Utermann, global chief investment officer at Allianz Global Investors, is confident that the ECB will do what is expected and the market will get the liquidity it wants.

“The European Central Bank’s plan, although they might not admit it, is to keep the euro cheap,” he said at the asset manager’s Market Outlook 2016 roundtable. “The tap of liquidity is turned on and it is not getting turned off.”

The ECB launched its bond-buying programme in January, pledging to splash out about €60bn a month from March 2015 until September 2016, hoping to rocket-launch inflation from its near-zero doldrums to a sparkling two per cent.

But growth has not picked up as quickly as some hoped and there have been hints from the central bank that they may extend the programme. ECB president Mario Draghi recently said that the central bank will “do what we must” to return inflation to its two per cent target “as quickly as possible” – a strong hint of further action.

But all this easy money comes at a price.

“Noone is writing about the social impact of quantitative easing,” said Andreas. “It widens the gap between rich and poor. But noone is addressing it due to lack of other options.”

In the US, former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has blamed QE for rising inequality as it “held down interest rates” and “caused the stock market to rise”.

Here in the UK, pensions minister Ros Altmann has complained that the bond-buying programme has resulted in a huge tax increase on pensions – with pensioners relying on interest income – and a tax cut for banks, borrowers and the wealthy.

And Bank of England research back in 2012 said the policy had boosted asset prices and made the rich richer.

But as Andreas says, what is the other option? Answers on a postcard please, or even better, email info@hotcommodity.co.uk with your views.