Key concerns stem from the reason SVB gave for needing to raise capital – startups pulling out cash deposits. This is mainly driven by venture-backed technology and health-care companies that went public last year, and questions are now being raised if SVB is just the tip of the iceberg as higher interest rates continue to push valuations lower presenting broader risks for lenders.
The MSCI Asia Pacific Index dropped as much as 2% on Friday, dragged down by financial shares, keeping the risk-off sentiment alive. China reopening is also still in its early stages and data has been mixed, suggesting lack of catalysts to continue to drive a recovery, and Chinese stocks erased most of 2023 gains in light of the deteriorating risk sentiment. Japanese equities also slipped by 1.5% despite the ultra-loose monetary policy conditions being maintained.
Overall sentiment appears fragile with equities plunging and rate hikes getting priced out as investors flock to bonds in a bid for safe havens.
Yen direction unclear
Domestically, the incoming growth and inflation data, including the outcome of the spring wage negotiations, remains key to watch to assess if Ueda could consider policy normalization, given that he exhibited an openness to being flexible in addition to his message on policy continuity at the testimony last month. Still the message on flexibility was more directed towards responding to market disorders, and there is unlikely to be a pressing need for policy tightening unless inflation takes an ugly turn again.
This means the forthcoming data from the US, particularly the NFP jobs data and the February CPI, will be key to cement the case for a 50bps rate hike from the Fed this month and the primary driver for the Japanese yen in the short run. The base case remains for the data to remain hot, and even if we still get a 25bps rate hike in March, the possibility of the dot plot being revised upwards is high. This could push USDJPY towards the 140 mark.
However, the added concerns over the US banking sector spurring broader risk aversion could bring the yen support in focus. Depending on how far the SVB fallout extends, the yen’s safe haven bid could return and USDJPY could fall. Japanese stocks could remain interesting as monetary policy stays loose, provided the deterioration in global risk sentiment is contained.