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FX Update: Powell is now an inflation fighter, not a punchbowl spiker.

Forex 4 minutes to read
John Hardy

Head of FX Strategy

Summary:  Fed Chair Powell cemented recent evidence that the Fed has changed its stripes from a punch bowl refiller for the economy and the labor market to an inflation fighter at large. The market is finding it tough to absorb this message, given the recent market choppiness and virus distractions, but interesting that the US dollar has not found more strength on this momentous pivot.


FX Trading focus: Hawkish broadside from Powell

Fed Chair Powell cemented the impression that the Fed has shifted firmly into inflation fighting mode with an appearance yesterday before a Fed panel. The rhetoric was direct and of a make-no-mistake variety. Powell said that the end of balance sheet expansion would likely wind down a few  months sooner than originally foreseen, even with the current omicron variant of covid concerns. He also spelled out that it is probably time to retire the word “transitory” when discussing inflation, ad said that the risk of higher inflation has increased. Perhaps most interesting was a comment that persistent higher inflation brought a risk to getting the labor market back to where it was pre-covid. It is crystal clear at this point that the Fed has pivoted to inflation-fighting and tightening and will move in that direction as quickly as it can until the inflation numbers improve markedly.

Of course, the market was already adjusting to clear signs that the Fed is moving into a far more hawkish stance early last week, only to be sidelined viciously by the omicron variant worries in recent days. Were it not for that interlude, Fed expectations would likely be at new cycle highs as yesterday’s signals from Powell make the Fed shift as clear as day. As it is, we have only clawed back a majority of the 2022 hikes priced in pricing of Fed rate hikes, still some 8 basis points to go for end of year Fed pricing (the “omicron discount” being perhaps 15 basis points or more?).

The two curious things are that the US yield curve continues to viciously flatten and the market continues to price the terminal Fed rate for the coming hiking cycle at 2.00%. The inability for the longer yields to lift higher recently may be reining in the USD upside for. The other indicator besides yield-curve shifts that is making waves here on my radar screen of financial conditions is the measure of corporate credit, where spreads have blown wider, as discussed over the last couple of episodes of the Saxo Market Call podcast. The bluntness from the Fed yesterday may have driven the particularly bad day for junk bonds as the new style from the Fed could lead investors in the riskiest debt to conclude that they may be allowed to twist in the breeze down the road if inflation levels stay high, rather than receiving endless bailouts that keep zombie companies in business and able to forever roll forward their debts. We are set up for an interesting 2022 that will likely look very different from 2021.

The shift in Fed rhetoric will make the market extra-sensitive to US data and developments that impact inflation, from energy prices, to the CPI/PCE data itself and the average hourly earnings data perhaps even more than the usual nonfarm payrolls change focus. Today’s Beige Book could be interesting for anecdotal evidence from interviews with companies on their impression of supply constraints, wage adjustments and issues finding qualified workers, etc. Today’s November ADP Payrolls was another strong 500k+ as expected.

Chart: USDJPY
USDJPY was handcuffed by developments yesterday – on the one hand with the USD supported by a rise in Fed expectations, but on the other hand, JPY traders finding no fresh reason to bid up the JPY as the long end of the US yield curve remains pinned at quite low yields and there has been no shift in the Fed’s “terminal rate” – where the market sees the Fed rate hike cycle peeking out. So the price action bobbed well back above the 112.73 range pivot level that was broken yesterday, but has a steep wall to climb to threaten the 115.00+ cycle highs again, something that would likely require the entire Fed yield curve to lift, and more aggressively than expectations for policy normalization elsewhere.

Source: Saxo Group

Table: FX Board of G10 and CNH trend evolution and strength
Again, the market is finding the reaction function increasingly difficult to the recent jolts in inputs. Note the huge momentum shift in SEK, where the market overdid the recent squeeze, but the strength there will likely only improve once the euro bottoms and the outlook for EU yields and fiscal improves.

Source: Bloomberg and Saxo Group

Table: FX Board Trend Scoreboard for individual pairs.
Well entrenched trends are few and far between, but the EURCNH and EURCHF downtrends stand out, with the latter’s lack of volatility after recent direction changes remarkable. The Swiss franc does well as a safe haven and does well because the SNB can’t be seen weakening the currency when inflation pressures are rising.

Source: Bloomberg and Saxo Group

Upcoming Economic Calendar Highlights (all times GMT)

  • 1500 – US Fed Chair Powell, Treasury Secretary Yellen to testify before House panel
  • 1500 – US Nov. ISM Manufacturing
  • 1530 – DOE’s Weekly Crude Oil and Fuel Inventories
  • 1900 - Fed Beige Book
  • 0030 – Australia Oct. Trade Balance
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