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German 10-year government bond yields jumped at the end of 2016, but have since been locked in a tight range around 0.4%, despite a steady inflow of strong economic data.
Bond markets in the euro area have been a calm sea recently relative to the turmoil in equities, credit and commodities. Following the initial surge in yields at the end of second quarter, 10-year benchmark rates have meandered in a tight range, recently settling towards the lower end, at 0.5%. Our outlook for the economy and inflation tells us this is to o low, even allowing for the impact of QE.
Long term benchmark yields in the Eurozone almost fell to zero towards the end of the first quarter as investors were carried away in their celebration of QE. The counter-reaction to this move, though, was violent with 10-year yields surging from 0.2% to 0.9% in the space of two months from April to June, and we think a similar tantrum could be waiting in the wings for investors. We are particularly wary that upside surprises in inflation data--mainly in Germany--could push yields up sharply in the next few months.
German 10-year yields have been trading according to a simple rule of thumb since 2017, namely, anything around 0.6% has been a buy, and 0.2%, or below, has been a sell.
On the face of it, the 25 basis points increase in 10-year German yields this month is modest. But the sell-off has reminded levered investors that trading benchmark securities in the Eurozone is not a one-way street. When yields are close to zero, investors also use leverage to enhance returns, and this increases volatility when the market turns.
The IFO survey signals that markets shouldn't be too downbeat on the German economy, even as it faces uncertainty from global trade tensions.
Friday's data added further colour to the September CPI data for the Eurozone.
Reporting on German CPI data has been like watching paint dry in recent months, but that will change in the first half of the year.
Advance data indicate German inflation rose to 0.4% year-over-year in November, up from 0.3% in October, lifted by higher food and energy price inflation. The upward trend in food prices won't last, but base effects in energy prices will persist, boosting headline inflation significantly in coming months. The details show that services inflation was stable at 1.2% last month, despite state data indicating a fall in volatile leisure and entertainment inflation, while net rent inflation was also stable, at 1.1%.
Yesterday's August PMI data in the euro area ran counter to the otherwise gloomy signals from the ZEW and Sentix investor sentiment indices.
Swoons in EZ investor sentiment are not always reliable leading indicators for the economic surveys, but it is fair to say that risks for today's advance PMIs are tilted to the downside, following the dreadful Sentix and ZEW headlines earlier this month.
The story in EZ capital markets this year has been downbeat.
The prospect of fiscal stimulus in the euro area-- ostensibly to "help" the ECB reach its inflation target-- remains a hot topic for investors and economists.
The ECB will deliver a carbon copy of its December meeting today, at least in terms of the main headlines.
Investors have endured a severe test of their resolve in the last few months. Global equity markets have sunk more than 10%, eclipsing the previous low in September, and credit spreads have widened. The bears have predictably pounced and, as if the torrid price action hasn't been enough, media headlines have been littered with advice to "sell everything" and warnings of a 75% fall in U.S. and global equities. When "price is news" we recognise that views from well-meaning economists--often using lagging and revised economic data to describe the world--are of little value.
Yesterday's German IFO survey broadly confirmed the bullish message from the PMIs earlier this week. The headline business climate index rose to 111.0 in February from a revised 109.9 in January, boosted by increases in both the current assessment and the expectations index.
Last week's ECB meeting--see here--made it clear that the central bank does not intend to jump the gun on rate hikes next year, even as QE is scheduled to end in Q4 2018.
Economic data in the Eurozone are sending an increasingly upbeat message on the economy. Yesterday saw a barrage of numbers, but the most startling of them was the continued acceleration in the money supply.
A few ECB governors has attempted to lean against dovish expectations in the past week.
Policymakers and macroeconomic forecasters at the ECB will be doing some soul-searching this week. GDP growth in the euro area accelerated to a punchy 2.5% year-over-year in Q3, and unemployment dipped to a cyclical low of 8.9%.
Inflation in the Eurozone stumbled at the end of Q3.
Barring a disaster, the four-year cyclical upturn in the euro area will continue in the coming quarters. Inflation is a lagging indicator and therefore should rise, and investors should be adjusting their mindset to higher interest rates. But the reality today looks very different. Final inflation data confirmed that the Eurozone inflation slipped to -0.2% year-over-year in February, from 0.2% in January.
Inflation in the Eurozone eased at the start of Q3.
Today's data likely will show that inflation in the Eurozone rebounded in November.
Markets tend to take an eclectic view on macroeconomic data in the Eurozone.
Yesterday's final manufacturing PMIs for October were grim, but they told investors nothing they don't already know.
Inflation in the Eurozone is on the rise but, as we explained in yesterday's Monitor it is unlikely to prompt the ECB further to reduce the pace of QE in the short run. The central bank has signalled a shift in focus towards core inflation, at a still-low 0.9% well below the 2% target. But the core rate also is a lagging indicator, and we think it will creep higher in 2017.
German manufacturing data are all over the place at the moment. Earlier this week, data showed that new orders jumped toward the end of 2016, but yesterday's industrial production report was a shocker. Output plunged 3.0% month-to-month in December, pushing the year-over-year rate down to -0.7% from a revised +2.3% in November.
German manufacturing rebounded somewhat mid-way through Q3.
Mr. Draghi and his colleagues erred on the side of maximum dovishness yesterday.
We sympathise if readers are sceptical of our opening gambit in this Monitor.
German inflation surged in December, pointing to an upside surprise in today's advance EZ report. The headline inflation rate rose to a three-year high of 1.7% year-over-year in December, from 0.8% in November. This was the biggest increase in the year- over-year rate since 1993.
Last week's May CPI data in the major EZ economies all but confirmed the story for this week's advance estimate for the euro area as a whole.
Yesterday's final manufacturing PMIs confirmed that the headline index in the euro area rebounded further last month.
On the face of it, the outperformance of gilts compared to government bonds in other developed countries this year suggests that Brexit would be a boon for the gilt market. In the event of an exit, however, we think that the detrimental impact of higher gilt issuance, rising risk premia and weaker overseas demand would overwhelm the beneficial influence of stronger domestic demand for safe-haven assets, pushing gilt yields higher.
Survey and money supply data remain consistent with an improving Eurozone economy. Yesterday's EC sentiment index fell to 103.7 in April, from 103.9 in March, due to weakness in France and Germany, but it is consistent with GDP growth of about 0.4% quarter-on-quarter in Q2.
The split between the reality reflected in the economic data and market pricing has never been wider in the euro area
Friday's detailed GDP data in Germany confirm that the euro area's largest economy performed strongly in the second quarter.
Yesterday's final CPI estimate in Germany confirmed that inflation fell to a 15-month low of 1.4% year-over-year in February, down from 1.6% in January.
German net exports were treading water at the start of the fourth quarter. The seasonally adjusted trade surplus slipped to €17.4B in October, from a revised €17.7B in September, constrained by a 1.3% month-to-month rise in imports, which offset a 0.7% increase in exports.
EZ investors are still trying to come to grips with last week's terrifying price action, culminating in the 12.5% crash in equities on Thursday
Yesterday's economic reports in the Eurozone were ugly.
Base effects were the key driver of yesterday's upbeat industrial production headline in Italy.
The hard data now point to a horrendous Q3 GDP print in Germany, which almost surely will constrain the advance EZ GDP print released on October 30.
In this Monitor we'll let the data be, and try to make some sense of the recent market volatility from a Eurozone perspective, with an eye to the implications for the economy and policymakers' actions.
Inflation data in the Eurozone came in broadly as we expected. Weakness in food and energy prices dampened the headline, but core inflation rose. Inflation was unchanged at 0.2% year-over-year in July, with core inflation rising to 1.0% year-over-year, a 15-month high, up from 0.8% in June.
Yesterday's German manufacturing and trade data did little to allay our fears over downside risks to this week's Q4 GDP data. At -1.2% month-to-month in December, industrial production was much weaker than the consensus forecast of a 0.5% increase. Exports also surprised to the downside, falling 1.6% month-to-month. Our GDP model, updated with these data, shows GDP growth fell 0.2%-to-0.3% quarter-on-quarter in Q4, reversing the 0.3% increase in Q3.
Survey data have been signalling a stronger German economy in the last few months, and hard data are beginning to confirm this story. Data yesterday showed that industrial production rose 0.4% month-to-month in November, pushing the year-over-year rate up to 2.2%, from an upwardly-revised 1.6% in October. The headline was boosted mainly by a 1.5% month-to-month jump in construction and a 0.9% rise in intermediate goods production.
The escalation in the U.S.-Chinese trade wars has understandably pushed EZ economic data firmly into the background while we have been resting on the beach.
The German trade surplus increased slightly in May, following weakness in the beginning of spring. The seasonally adjusted surplus rose to €20.3B in May, from €19.7B in April; it was lifted by a 1.4% month-to-month jump in exports, which offset a 1.2% rise imports.
The EZ Q4 GDP data narrowly avoided a downward revision in yesterday's second estimate.
Friday's economic data confirmed that inflation in Germany rebounded last month, and leading indicators suggest that it is headed higher in coming months.
The debate about the ECB's policy trajectory is bifurcated at the moment. Markets are increasingly convinced that a rapidly strengthening economy will force the central bank to make a hawkish adjustment in its stance.
Bond investors in the Eurozone are licking their wounds following a 40 basis point backup in 10-year yields since the end of last month. Nothing goes up in a straight line, but we doubt that inflation data will provide much comfort for bond markets in the short term.
"Is EZ fiscal stimulus on the way?" is a question that we receive a lot these days.
The euro area economy continues to defy rising political uncertainty. Data yesterday showed that industrial production, ex-construction, in the Eurozone jumped 1.5% month-to-month in November, pushing the year-over-year rate up to 3.2% from a revised 0.8% in October. Output rose in all the major economies, but the headline was flattered by a 16.3% month-to-month leap in Ireland. This was due to a production jump in Ireland's "modern sector" which includes the country's large multinational technology sector.
All eyes in the Eurozone will be on the second estimate of Q4 GDP today, and the report likely will confirm that growth accelerated in Q4. We think real GDP rose 0.5% quarter-on-quarter, up from a 0.3% increase in Q3, in line with the first estimate. If this forecast is correct, the year-over-year rate will be unchanged at 1.8%. Risks to the headline, however, are tilted to the downside.
Inflation in Germany rebounded last month, rising to plus 0.1% year-over-year in May, from minus 0.1% in April. We think the economy has escaped the claws of deflation, for now. Household energy prices fell 5.7% year-over-year in May, up from a 6.3% decline in April, and the rate will rise further. Base effects and higher oil prices point to a surge in energy inflation in the next three-to-six months.
Financial assets of all stripes are, by most metrics, expensive as we head into year-end, but for some markets, valuations matter less than in others. The market for non-financial corporate bonds in the euro area is a case in point.
Investors were presented with a barrage of mixed EZ economic data on Friday, fighting for attention amid markets celebrating the arrival of negative interest rates in Japan. Advance Eurozone CPI data gave some respite to the ECB, with inflation rising to 0.4% year-over-year in January from 0.2% in December.
The final June inflation report from Germany yesterday confirmed that pressures are rising. Inflation rose to 0.3% year-over-year in June, up from 0.1% in May, mainly due to higher energy prices. Household energy prices--utilities--fell 4.9% year-over-year, up from a 5.7% decline in May, while deflation in petrol prices eased to -9.4%, up from -12.1% in May.
Monitoring bond markets in the Eurozone has been like watching paint dry this year. Yields across fixed income markets in the euro area were already low going into QE, but they have been absolutely crushed as asset purchases began in February.
The construction sector in the Eurozone remains moribund. Output fell 0.4% month-to-month in September, pushing the year-over-year rate up to 1.8% from a revised 1.4% fall in August. Declines were recorded in France, Germany, and Italy, with a small increase in Spain. These data could, in theory, lead to revisions in the final Q3 Eurozone GDP data released December 8th, but we very much doubt they will move the needle. Our first chart shows the relationship between construction and GDP growth has broken down since the crisis.
Market-implied expectations of negative rates through 2021, and bund yields plunging below -0.1%, are an accident waiting to happen, but the main story is clear as rain.
The two polls suggesting the U.K. would remain in the EU yesterday proved to be a noose for investors to hang themselves with, as the results pointed to a vote for Brexit. Markets already are in disarray, and the direction is as we expected and feared. EUR/GBP is up 7%, and the DAX 30 in Germany is indicated by futures to plunge a hefty 7%-to-8% at the open. Bund yields will collapse too, and all eyes will be on the spread between Germany and the rest of the periphery.
We have warned that the ECB' decision to add corporate bonds to QE would lead to unprecedented market distortions. Evidence of this is now abundantly clear. The central bank has bought €82B-worth of corporate bonds in the past 11 months, and now holds more than 6% of the market. Assuming the central bank continues its purchases until the middle of next year, it will end up owning 13%-to-14% of the whole Eurozone corporate bond market.
It has become fashionable to argue that the combination of favorable yield differentials and abundant global liquidity, courtesy of the BoJ and the ECB, will keep Treasury yields very low for the foreseeable future; the 10-year could even establish itself below 2%.
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