FX Trading Focus: USD firming underwhelms, given massive further shift in Fed expectations, BoJ doubles down on YCC, Riksbank throws SEK under the bus.
US dollar snaps back after whiplash-inducing sell-off post-CPI release. The January US CPI release came in hotter than expected, at 0.6% month-on-month for both the headline and ex-food-and-energy measures vs. +0.4%/+0.5% expected, respectively and at +7.5% / +6.0% year-on-year versus +7.3%/+5.9% expected, respectively. Both of the year-on-year numbers were the highest for the cycle and the highest in forty years and took Fed expectations higher still. Somewhat curiously, the USD kneejerk higher on the data release was quickly erased and the greenback actually sold off to new local lows before later rallying on a hawkish broadside from St. Louis Fed President and FOMC voter James Bullard. And even then, the USD strength looks underwhelming, as discussed in the EURUSD chart below.
As noted, Bullard was out speaking yesterday in an interview with Bloomberg yesterday and said that he would like to see 100 basis points of Fed tightening “before July 1” which implicitly means that, if the hikes were to take place at regularly scheduled meetings, one of the three meetings between now and then would need to see a 50-basis point move. He would also like to see QT (balance sheet reduction) beginning in the second quarter and even brought up the idea of an emergency move between meetings. “There was a time when the committee would have reacted to something like this to having a meeting right now and doing 25 basis points right now...I think we should be nimble and considering that kind of thing.” The Fed hasn’t done an emergency hike at a non-scheduled regularly meeting since 1994, as far as I can tell.
The combination of the CPI and Bullard’s comments took the March FOMC meeting expectation to +46 basis points, i.e., very strong consensus that the Fed will hike fifty basis points (or an emergency move of 25 bps plus another 25 bps at that meeting) and the anticipated rate through the December FOMC meeting is some 30 bps higher at above 178 bps than where it closed Wednesday.
Bank of Japan set to enforce its yield-curve-control policy – before the US CPI release yesterday, the Bank of Japan announced that it would buy “unlimited” amounts of 10-year JGB’s in operations on Monday, obviously to enforce its 25 basis point yield cap on 10-year Japanese sovereign debt after the yield on that debt had reached as high as 23 basis points yesterday. The JPY was sharply weaker on the news, but USDJPY avoided new highs above the previous 116.35 mark as it came back broadly bid – especially in the crosses yesterday - on energy prices and risk sentiment cratering. This is an interesting move from the BoJ if it maintains this policy, as any further rise in global bond yields from here, particularly longer yields, will theoretically have to absorbed by further weakening of the already very weak Japanese yen.
Riksbank dovish, SEK rushes lower – the Riksbank failed to make any shift in line with the recent ECB meeting, as it expressed the view that monetary policy needed to stay loose “for inflation to be close to the target in the medium term.” As well, the Riksbank promised to continue with enough QE to keep the bank’s balance sheet unchanged through this calendar year before allowing holdings to “decrease gradually.” The rate lift-off time frame was only pulled forward to the second half of 2024 from the prior forecast of Q4 of 2024. All in all, a very dovish mix despite Governor Ingves providing the decisive vote in overruling dissenting voices on the QE decision, so the Riksbank did an effective job of throwing the SEK under the bus.
Yesterday’s developments were perhaps both confusing and revealing. Initially, the hot US January CPI release failed to boost the US dollar, which actually dropped to a new low in places (new high in EURUSD) despite additional Fed tightening being priced into the forward curve in the wake of the release. Later, the USD came roaring back only after Bullard unleashed his hawkish broadside that unsettled the market, which is now forced to price in the risk of even an emergency Fed hike before the regularly scheduled March meeting. All in all, the revealing bit is that we wake up this morning with the Fed priced to hike a full 6-7 times through the December meeting this year, with risk sentiment on the defensive and the EURUSD is only about 30-40 pips below the Wednesday close. This suggests that the path to a stronger US dollar is a very difficult one (a full-on market crash?) and increases the conviction in the downside potential. The ultimate test for that notion would be if the Fed does indeed deliver an emergency hike in coming days and yet EURUSD fails to fall much further or even shows resilience and bounces back to current levels or higher.