FX Trading focus: FOMC reaction fading fast. Bank of England ushers in renewed sterling pounding.
A very brief update today as I hosted an FX webinar today, starting just as the Bank of England decision was announced – find the replay here (scroll down to the “Previous Webinars” section).
The FOMC last night was a significant surprise in that Powell specifically seemed determined to take 75-basis point hikes off the table in specifically forecasting 50-bps hikes for coming meetings. As well, the Fed will only begin to shrink its balance sheet from June 1, only to reach its maximum pace of tightening ($95 billion/month) in three months. The result was a net “easing” relative to expectations, as the risk of a 75-basis point move was priced into June-July meeting expectations. Risk sentiment exploded higher on short covering and the US 2-year rate dropped some 15 basis points as the US dollar backed down sharply. Our view is that the Fed isn’t really in control of what it is eventually going to have to do in order to get ahead of inflation, but of course the market will react at the margin based on positioning and sentiment. Still, it is remarkable that the USD consolidation is reversing so quickly today. Part of that is down to the Bank of England uncorking an ugly economic forecast that is absolutely crushing sentiment in sterling as well as UK rates.
That of course takes us to the Bank of England meeting: three dissented to the decision to hike rates by 25-basis points, wanting a 50-basis point move. Interestingly, two members saw guidance for more hikes as “inappropriate”! In the economic forecasts, the bank is concerned about the “second-biggest drop in living standards since 1964”, sees unemployment rising throughout the forecast window, and a GDP contraction in Q4 and a 2023 GDP growth of -0.25%. The inflation forecast was raised to a blistering 10.25% for this year, but expected to drop to 3.5% in 2023 (!!). Governor Bailey said in the press conference that rate increases larger than 25 basis points are inappropriate, but I am more afraid that a vicious negative spiral in sterling could force the BoE to do more hiking than it wants to defend the currency and throw the economy under the bus. Finally, rather than starting “active QT” now (selling holdings outright rather than merely not replacing maturing bonds) as had been forecast once the BoE rate reached 1.00%, the bank now says it will not start doing so until August. This is almost an outright reneging on former guidance and is adding further to the pressure on sterling. Helmets on sterling traders – not sure that long term support at 1.2000 in GBPUSD is worth much if the USD is coming back full bore here – also note EURGBP thoughts below.
We focus on EURGBP here rather than GBPUSD because this is the a major technical break in the important measure of sterling’s relative strength. The brutal move higher could signal a move back into the heart of the pre-Brexit range, with resistance into the 0.8800+ area.