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Markets are becoming more sensitive to rumours about changes in ECB policy. The euro and yields jumped on Friday after a Bloomberg report that the central bank has discussed raising rates before QE ends.
Markets are looking for the ECB to extend QE today, and we think they will get their way. We expect the central bank to prolong the program by six months, to September 2017, and to maintain the pace of monthly purchases at €80B per month.
The scars from previous economic crises have not healed fully in the Eurozone, and we think the ECB will extend QE today, by six months to Q3 2017. We expect Mr. Draghi to retain his dovish bias in the opening statement, and to repeat the emphasis on downside risks, due to the weak external environment and political fears.
We expect the ECB to leave its main interest rates, and the scope and size of QE, unchanged at today's meeting. The governing council will recognize that the cyclical recovery is gathering momentum, but also note that inflation is still uncomfortably low.
Yesterday's ECB meeting left investors with a lot of thinking to do. The central bank kept its key interest rate unchanged, but extended and tweaked its asset purchase program. QE was extended until December 2017, but the monthly pace of purchases will be reduced by €20B per month to €60B starting April next year.
Yesterday's ECB policy decision was a carbon copy of the announcement in July. The central bank maintained its key refinancing rate at 0.00%, and also kept its deposit and marginal lending facility rates unchanged at -0.4% and 0.25% respectively. The ECB also kept the pace of QE unchanged at €80B per month. Finally, the central bank refrained from formally extending QE.
The ECB moved ahead of the curve this month with its QE program of €60B per month, starting in March. But still-abysmal inflation data will prompt journalists to ask Mr. Draghi, at the next ECB meeting, about the conditions under which the central bank plans to do more.
Mr. Draghi gave one of his most dovish performances to date yesterday. The central bank kept its main interest rates and the pace of QE unchanged, but reiterated that risks to growth and inflation are tilted to the downside. The president noted further that the existing policies will be "reexamined" in December in light of updated staff projections. It is difficult to see how the downbeat assessment on the economy will change materially from now until December, indicating that further stimulus is likely.
The ECB will keep interest rates on hold later today, and the commitment to monthly asset purchases of €60B--of which €50B will be sovereigns--until September next year will also remain unchanged. Sovereign QE should begin formally next week, but it has already turned bond markets upside down.
The rapidity with which the BoJ's QE programme has been scaled back is dramatic. Growth in the monetary base slowed to 15.6% year-over-year in September from 16.3% in August.
The distortions in European fixed income markets have intensified following the initiation of the ECB's sovereign QE program. In the market for sovereigns, German eight-year bond yields are within a touching distance of falling below zero, and this week Switzerland became the first country ever to issue a 10-year bond with negative yields.
Investors will get what they want today from the ECB: additional easing in the form of government bond purchases. The central bank is likely to announce or pre-commit to sovereign QE and corporate bond purchases in a new program that will last at least two years.
We think that the higher inflation outlook means that the MPC will dash hopes of unconventional stimulus on August 4 and instead will opt only to cut Bank Rate to 0.25%, from 0.50% currently. The minutes of July's MPC meeting show, however, that the MPC is mulling all the options. As a result, it is worth reviewing how a QE programme might be designed and what impact it might have on bond yields.
The ECB will keep its main refinancing and deposit rates unchanged at 0.00% and -0.4% today, but we think the central bank will satisfy markets' expectations for more clarity on the QE program next year.
Political uncertainty has surged since the ECB last met, but the central bank likely will refrain from action today. We think the ECB will keep its refi and deposit rates unchanged at 0.05% and -0.4%, respectively, and leave the monthly pace of QE unchanged at €80B.
Investors in euro-denominated corporate debt will be listening closely to Mr. Draghi this week for hints on how the ECB intends to balance QE between public and private debt next year.
The ECB will keep its refinancing and deposit rates unchanged today, at 0.0% and -0.4% respectively. We also think the pace of QE will be held at €80B per month. Attention will turn instead to the details and implementation of the measures unveiled last month. Corporate bonds will be added to QE at the end of the second quarter, and monthly purchases of about €5-to-€10B per month are a realistic assumption.
The ECB pressed the repeat button yesterday. The central bank maintained its refinancing rate at 0.00%, and also kept the deposit and marginal lending facility rate at -0.4% and 0.25 respectively. The pace of QE was held at €60B per month, scheduled to run until the end of December, "or beyond, if necessary."
Comments by Mr. Draghi in Washington last week point to a high bar for an adjustment to the QE program. The ECB president noted that while asset purchases and negative interest rates have driven a notable improvement in confidence and asset prices, the real key to the central bank's policies' success is a lasting boost to investment, consumption and inflation.
Recent bond market volatility has left a significant mark on Eurozone credit markets. The recent slide in the Bloomberg composite index for Eurozone corporate bonds is the biggest since the U.S. taper tantrum in 2013. The prospect of a Fed hike later this year and rising inflation expectations in the Eurozone have changed the balance of risk for fixed income markets.
Today's Sentix survey of Eurozone investor sentiment likely will remain downbeat. We think the headline index rose only trivially, to 6.0 in April from 5.5 in March, and that the expectations index was unchanged at 2.8. Weakness in equities due to global growth fears and negative earnings revisions likely is the key driver of below-par investor sentiment.
Eurozone investors are fixed on Mr. Draghi's speaking schedule this week, looking for hints of the ECB's future policy path.
Japan's monetary base growth has continued to slow, to 13.2% year-over-year in November from 14.5% in October.
Mr. Draghi was in a slightly more bullish mood yesterday, noting that the significant easing of financial conditions in recent months and improving sentiment show that monetary policy "has worked". Economic risks are tilted to the downside, according to the president, but they have also "diminished".
Today's ECB meeting will follow the same script as in July. No-one expects the central bank to make any formal changes to its policy settings. The ECB will keep its main refinancing and deposit rates at zero and -0.4%, respectively.
Markets were jolted yesterday by news that the U.S. Fed is mulling ending, or at least slowing, the reinvestment of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities later this year. Such a move would reduce liquidity in global markets that has underpinned soaring equity prices in recent years.
The ECB sent a strong signal yesterday that it is ready to fight deflation with a full range of unconventional monetary policy tools. Asset purchases, including sovereigns, to the tune of €60B per month will begin in March, and will run until end-September 2016, but Mr. Draghi noted that purchases could continue if the ECB is not satisfied with the trajectory of inflation.
ECB growth bears looking for the Fed to move in order to take the sting out of the euro's recent strength were disappointed last week. The FOMC refrained from a hike, referring to the risk that slowing growth in China and emerging markets could "restrain economic activity" and put "downward pressure on inflation in the near term." In doing so, the Fed had an eye on the same global risks as the ECB, highlighting increased fears of deflation risks in China, despite a rosier domestic outlook.
In an interview with The Times yesterday, MPC member Ian McCafferty--who voted to raise interest rates in June--suggested he also might favour starting to run down the Bank's £435B s tock of gilt purchases soon.
The EZ government bond market has been in a holding pattern for most of 2017. The euro area 10- year yield--German and French benchmark--is little changed from a year ago, though it is at the lower end of its range.
Under normal circumstances, we would have no hesitation calling for substantially higher long Treasury yields and a lower earnings multiple as the Fed raises rates. History tells us that you fight the Fed at your peril, as our first two charts show.
We don't expect any major policy announcements at today's ECB meeting. We think the central bank will keep its main refinancing rate unchanged at 0.0%, and we expect the deposit and marginal lending facility rates to remain at -0.4% and 0.25%, respectively.
The ECB held fire yesterday. The central bank kept its main refinancing rate unchanged at 0.0%, and also maintained the deposit and marginal lending facility rates at -0.4% and 0.25% respectively.
Economic survey data have been upbeat recently, but key Eurozone data releases yesterday suggest the ECB will be under pressure to increase monetary policy stimulus further this month. The advance inflation estimate showed that the euro area slipped back into deflation in September, as inflation fell to -0.1% year-over- year, from +0.1% in August. The fall was mainly due to a 8.9% collapse in energy prices, though, and we are very confident the relapse is temporary.
A looming rate lift-off at the Fed, chaos in Greece, and a renewed rout in commodities have given credit markets plenty to worry about this year. The Bloomberg global high yield index is just about holding on to a 0.7% gain year-to-date, but down 2.5% since the middle of May. The picture carries over to the euro area where the sell-off is worse than during the taper tantrum in 2013.
The ECB is unlikely to make any changes to its policy stance today. We think the central bank will keep its refinancing and deposit rates at 0.00% and -0.4%, respectively, and maintain the pace of QE at €60 per month until the end of the year. We also don't expect any substantial change in the language on forward guidance and QE.
The ECB will not make any adjustments to its policy stance today. We think the central bank will keep its main refinancing and deposit rates unchanged at 0.0% and -0.4%, respectively, and also that will maintain the pace of QE purchases at €80B a month. The updated macroeconomic projections likely will include a modest upgrade of this year's GDP forecast to 1.5%, from its 1.4% estimate in March.
Along with just about every other commentator and market participant, we have been wondering in recent months how longer Treasuries would react to the Fed starting to raise rates at the same time the ECB and BoJ are pumping new money into their economies via QE.
Corporate bonds will not be included in the ECB's monthly QE purchases until the end of Q2, but markets are already preparing. The sale of non-financial corporate debt jumped to €49.4B in March, from about €25B in February, within touching distance of the record set in Q1 last year.
Mr. Draghi struck a dovish tone yesterday, despite the new ECB staff projections upgrading the inflation forecast this year to an average of 0.3%, up from the zero predicted in March. The president reiterated that the central bank's expectation of a gradual improvement in inflation and real GDP growth is conditional on the full implementation of QE.
The ECB stood pat yesterday, keeping its key refinancing and deposit rates unchanged at zero and -0.4%, respectively. The marginal lending facility rate was also left at 0.25%, and the monthly pace of QE was maintained at €80B, with a preliminary end-date in the first quarter of 2017. Purchases of corporate bonds will begin June 8, and the first new TLTRO auction will take place June 22.
On all accounts, the ECB announced a significant addition to its stimulus program yesterday. The central bank cut the deposit rate by 0.1%, to -0.3%, and extended the duration of QE until March 2017. The ECB also increased the scope of eligible assets to include regional and local government debt; decided to re-invest principal bond payments; and affirmed its commitment to long-term refinancing operations in the financial sector for as long as necessary. The measures were not agreed upon unanimously, but the majority was, according to Mr. Draghi, "very large".
The last few weeks' action in Eurozone financial markets has shown investors that the QE trade is not a one-way street. Higher short-rates could force the ECB to take preventive measures, but we don't think the central bank will be worried about rising long rates unless they shoot much higher.
The ECB made no major policy changes yesterday. The central bank kept its refinancing and deposit rates unchanged at 0.00% and -0.4% respectively, and the scheduled reduction in the pace of QE to €60B per month was confirmed. The core part of the central bank's language retained its dovish bias.
Gilt yields have collapsed this year, aided by a surge in safe-haven demand, the much lower outlook for overnight interest rates and the resumption of QE. Bond yields also have fallen globally, but the drop in the ten-year gilt yields to a record low of 0.53%, from nearly 2% at the beginning of 2016, has greatly exceeded the declines elsewhere, as our first chart shows.
Eurozone capital markets have been split across the main asset classes this year. Equity investors have had a nightmare. The MSCI EU ex-UK index is down 10.6% year-to-date, a remarkably poor performance given additional QE from the ECB and stable GDP growth. Corporate bonds, on the other hand, are sizzling.
The ECB did its utmost not to say or do anything remotely novel today. The central bank kept its main refinancing and deposit rates unchanged at 0.00% and -0.40%, respectively, and reiterated its plan for QE next year.
The ECB will keep its main interest rates and the pace of QE purchases unchanged today. Mr. Draghi will also reiterate the commitment to continuing QE until September next year, at least. But the press conference likely will focus on Greece, and the central bank's role in the chaos. Greek financial institutions are on the verge of collapse, partly because the ECB has been forced to cap emergency liquidity assistance--ELA--at €89B, and raise collateral haircut requirements following the announcement of the referendum.
Two years ago markets believed that the institutional setup of the Eurozone would be a straitjacket on the ECB, preventing QE. Aggressive policy actions since then have proven this hypothesis wrong. But inflation remains low and sentiment data weakened ominously in the first quarter.
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.
In yesterday's Monitor, we laid out the macroeconomic case for moderately higher inflation in the second half of the year. But subdued market based inflation expectations indicate that the ECB will retain its dovish bias for now. The central bank's preferred measure, 5-year/5-year forward inflation expectations, have only increased modestly in response to QE, and have even declined recently on the back of higher market volatility.
The ECB left its key interest rates unchanged yesterday, and maintained the pace of QE at €60B a month, but increased the issue limit to 33% from 25%. The updated staff projections revealed a downward adjustment of the central bank's inflation and growth forecasts across all horizons up to 2017. These forecasts were accompanied by a very dovish introductory statement, noting disappointment with the pace of the cyclical recovery, and emphasizing renewed downside risks to the economy and the inflation outlook.
Even Charles Dickens could not have written a more dramatic prologue to today's ECB meeting. Elevated expectations ahead of major policy events always leave room for major disappointment, but we think the central bank will deliver. Advance data yesterday indicated inflation was unchanged at 0.1% year-over-year in November, below the consensus 0.2%, and providing all the ammunition the doves need to push ahead. We expect the central bank to cut the deposit rate by 20bp to -0.4%, to increase the pace of bond purchases by €10B to €70B a month, and to extend QE to March 2017.
As widely expected, the ECB held fire yesterday. The central bank left its main refi rate unchanged at zero, and also kept the pace of QE unchanged at €80B a month. The deposit and marginal lending facility rates were also left unchanged at -0.4% and 0.25% respectively. The formal end-date of QE is still Q1 2017, but the press release repeated the message that QE can continue "beyond [Q1 2017], if necessary, and in any case until it sees a sustained adjustment in the path of inflation consistent with its inflation aim."
Yesterday's ECB meeting provided no immediate relief to nervous investors. The central bank kept its main interest rates unchanged, and maintained the pace of QE purchases at €60B per month. Mr. Draghi compensated for the lack of action, however, by hinting heavily at further easing at its next meeting. The president emphasized that the ECB's policies will be "reviewed and reconsidered" in light of the March update to the staff projections. Mr. Draghi also admitted that inflation has been "weaker than expected" since the last meeting, and that downside risks have increased further. The central bank does not pre-commit, but we think it is a good bet that the ECB will do more in March.
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.
ECB board member Peter Praet fired the first shot across the markets' bow yesterday following this week's turmoil. Speaking to journalists in Germany, Mr. Praet noted "increased downside risk of achieving a sustainable inflation path towards 2%," and assured investors the current QE program is fully flexible, and can be readily adjusted in response to an adverse development in inflation expectations. We don't think, though, this is a pre -cursor for additional easing at next week's ECB meeting.
QE and a gradually strengthening economy will remain positive catalysts for equities in the euro area this year. But with the MSCI EU ex -UK up almost 24% in the first quarter, the best quarterly performance since Q4 1999, the question is whether the good news has already been priced in.
Debt issuance by Eurozone non-financial firms is soaring, consistent with the ECB's hope that adding private debt to QE would boost supply. Our first chart shows that the three-month sum of net debt sold in the euro area jumped to a new record of €60.3B in May. A short-term decline in issuance is a good bet after the initial euphoria in firms' treasury departments.
Investors looking for more QE and rate cuts will be disappointed by ECB inaction today. We think the Central Bank will keep its main interest rates unchanged, and also maintain the pace of asset purchases at €60B a month. We do, however, look for a slight change in language, hinting that QE is likely to continue beyond September next year.
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.
Eurozone investors continue to look to the ECB as the main reason to justify a constructive stance on the equity market. Last week, the central bank all but promised additional easing in March, but the soothing words by Mr. Draghi have, so far, given only a limited lift to equities. Easy monetary policy has partly been offset by external risks, in the form of fears over slow growth in China, and the risk of low oil prices sparking a wave of corporate defaults. But uncertainty over earnings is another story we frequently hear from disappointed equity investors. We continue to think that QE and ZIRP offer powerful support for equity valuations in the Eurozone, but weak earnings are a key missing link in the story.
The ECB broadly conformed to markets' expectations today. The central bank maintained its key refinancing and deposit rates at 0.00% and -0.4% respectively, and delivered the consensus package on QE.
Economic data are telling a story of a strengthening recovery, but downbeat investor sentiment points to a more difficult environment. The headline ZEW expectations index fell to a ten-month low of 12.1 in September, from 25.0 in August. This takes sentiment back to levels not seen before QE was announced, highlighting the increasing worry that deflation risks and low growth in China will derail the recovery. We don't agree, but we can't be sure the ECB thinks the same, and risks of additional stimulus this year have increased.
The flow of Middle-Eastern refugees taking the treacherous journey towards Europe continues unabated. UNHCR estimates of arrivals through the Western Balkan route--mainly originating from Greece and Serbia--suggest the average daily number of refugees has been stable so far between October and November at about 11,000. These data are very unreliable, but they indicate that the onset of winter on the European continent--and the added risk to migrants with no shelter--will not deter people from attempting the trip to Europe.
It's always dangerous when risk assets rally strongly into an ECB meeting, but we doubt that investors have much to fear from today's session in Frankfurt. We think the central bank will leave its main refinancing and deposit rates at 0.00% and -0.4% respectively.
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.
November data for most of the major EZ business and consumer surveys arrive this week. We doubt the reports will change our view that EZ GDP growth likely will remain steady at about 1.6% year-over-year in Q4. But appearances matter, and risks are tilted to the downside in some of the main surveys, after jumps in October.
Expectations that the ECB will respond to weakening growth in China with Additional stimulus mean that survey data will be under particular scrutiny this week. The consensus thinks the Chinese manufacturing PMI--released overnight--will remain weak, but advance PMIs in the Eurozone should confirm that the cyclical recovery remained firm in Q3. We think the composite PMI edged slightly lower to 54.0 in September from 54.3 in August, consistent with real GDP growth of about 0.4% quarter-on-quarter in Q3.
The MPC must be very disappointed by the impact of its £60B government bond purchase programme. Gilt yields initially fell, but they now have returned to the levels seen shortly before the MPC's August meeting, when the purchases were announced.
Financial markets and economic survey data have been sending a downbeat message on the Eurozone economy so far this year. The composite PMI has declined to a 12-month low, consumer sentiment has weakened, and national business surveys have also been poor.
Markets cheered soaring business surveys in the Eurozone earlier this week, and recent consumer sentiment data also have been cause for celebration. The advance GfK consumer confidence index in Germany rose to a record high of 10.4 in June, from 10.2 in May.
Hard economic data for the first quarter will appear over the next few weeks, but the EC sentiment survey later today gives a useful overview of how the euro area economy started the year.
Yesterday's PMIs kicked off a busy week for Eurozone data on a downbeat note. The composite EZ PMI fell to a five-month low of 55.8 in July, from 56.3 in June; it was constrained by a 0.6 point dip in the manufacturing index to 56.8.
Weakness in risk assets turned into panic yesterday with the Eurostoxx falling over 6%, taking the accumulated decline to 19% since the beginning of August, and volatility hitting a three-year high. Market crashes of this kind are usually followed by a period of violent ups and downs, and we expect volatile trading in coming weeks. Following an extended bull market in risk assets, the key question investors will be asking is whether the economic cycle is turning.
The tailwinds that have propelled Eurozone equities higher since the middle of last year remain place, in principle. In the economy, political uncertainty in the euro area has turned into an opportunity for further integration and reforms, and cyclical momentum in has picked up. And closer to the ground, fundamentals also have improved.
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.
Yesterday's PMI reports repeated the message of a firm cyclical Eurozone recovery, despite investors' angst over deflation and the underwhelming Q3 GDP data earlier this month. The composite index in the zone rose to a 54-month high of 54.4 in November from 53.9 in October, lifted by strong output and solid new business growth. Our first chart shows the rise in the PMI points to slight upside risks in Q4 to the four quarter trend in real GDP growth of 0.4% per quarter.
The bond market has become extremely pessimistic about the long-term economic outlook following Britain's vote to leave the EU. Forward rates imply that the gilt markets' expectation for official interest rates in 20 years' time has shifted down to just 2%, from 3% at the start of 2016.
Mr. Draghi's speech to the European Banking Congress on Friday--see here--was a timely reminder to markets that the ECB is in no hurry to make any changes to its policy setting.
The Eurozone limped out of headline deflation in October, with inflation rising to 0.0% from -0.1% in September, helped by higher core and food inflation. Energy prices fell 8.7% year-over-year, up trivially after a 8.9% drop in September, but base effects will push up the year-over-rate significantly in coming months. Core inflation edged higher to 1.0% from 0.9% in September, due to 0.1 percentage point increases in both non-energy goods and services inflation.
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%.
Friday's inflation data in the Eurozone added a dovish twist to the story ahead of the key ECB meeting later this month.
The Eurozone's current account surplus remains in a firm uptrend, and should continue to rise this year, despite a small dip in the February surplus to €26.4B from a revised €30.4B in January.
Inflation pressures are slowly, but surely, rising in the Eurozone. Advance data indicate that inflation in Germany rose to 0.7% year-over-year in May, up from 0.5% in April. Reduced drag from the non-core components is the main driver, with energy prices rebounding, and food prices now rising steadily at 1.4% year-over-year.
The economic calendar in the euro area was relatively quiet over Christmas, and broadly conformed to our expectations.
The construction sector in the Eurozone probably stumbled in March. Advance data for the major economies suggest that output fell 1.2% month-to-month, pushing the year-over-year rate down to 1.6% from 2.4% in February.
The face-off is intensifying between Madrid and the pro-independent local government in Catalonia. A referendum on independence in the northeastern state has been rejected by the Spanish government and has been declared constitutionally illegal by the high court.
The labour market in the Eurozone continues slowly to improve. The unemployment rate fell to 10.7% in October from 10.8% in September, reaching its lowest level since 2013. The divergence in rates, however, between the major economies remains significant. Unemployment in France, Italy and Spain is still above 10%, but the advance German number continued their record-breaking form in November.
Yesterday's EZ construction data confirmed that capex in the building sector plunged in the second quarter. Construction output fell 0.5% month-to-month in May, pushing the year-over-year rate up trivially to -0.8%, from a revised -1.0% in April. Our forecast for construction investment in Q2 is not pretty, even after including our assumption that production rebounded by 0.5% month-to-month in June.
The initial pace of the Fed's balance sheet run-off, which we expect to start in October, will be very low. At first, the balance sheet will shrink by only $10B per month, split between $6B Treasuries and $4B mortgages.
The day of reckoning in Greece has been continuously postponed in the past three months, but government officials told national TV yesterday that the country cannot meet its IMF payment of €300M June 5th, without a deal with the EU. The urgency was echoed by the joint statement earlier this week by German Chancellor Merkel and French President Hollande that Greece has until the end of this month to reach a deal.
Retail sales increased by 1.0% month-to-month in August, exceeding our no-change forecast and spurring markets to price-in a 65% chance that the MPC will raise interest rates at its next meeting on November 2, up from 60% beforehand.
The ECB held fire yesterday and kept its main refinancing and deposit rates unchanged at 0.0% and -0.4%, respectively. The central bank also left the pace of monthly asset purchases unchanged at €80B. The introductory statement overall confirmed the central bank's dovish stance.
The data tell an increasingly convincing story that the Eurozone's external surplus rose further in the second half of last year.
The Eurozone's current account surplus plunged to €18.0B in May from €24.0B, the biggest monthly fall since July 2013, but an upward revision to the April data makes the headline look worse than it is. These numbers are volatile, even after seasonal adjustments, and revisions have been larger than normal this year, so we need to smooth the data to get the true story.
The construction sector remains a stand-out performer in the Eurozone economy, despite stumbling at the end of Q2.
The current account surplus in the Eurozone is well on its way to stabilising above 3% of GDP this year. The seasonally adjusted surplus rose to €29.4B in September from a revised €18.7B in August, lifted by a higher trade surplus, thanks to rebounding German exports. The services balance was unchanged at €4.5B in September, while the primary income balance edged higher to €4.8B from €4.0B. The improving external balance has been driven mostly by a surging trade surplus with the U.S. and the U.K., as our first chart shows.
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.
Our new Chief U.K. economist, Samuel Tombs, initiated his coverage yesterday with a sombre, non-consensus, message on the economy. Headwinds from fiscal tightening and net trade will weigh on GDP growth next year, but the BoE will likely have to look through such cyclical weakness, and hike as inflation creeps higher. An intensified drag from net trade in the U.K. will, other things equal, benefit the Eurozone. But a slowdown in U.K. GDP growth still poses a notable risk to euro area headline export growth, especially in the latter part of next year.
Discussions between Greece and its creditors drifted further into limbo last week, but we are cautiously optimistic that the Euro Summit meeting later today will yield a deal. The acrimony between Syriza and the main EU and IMF negotiators means, though, that a grand bargain is virtually impossible. We think an extension of the current bail-out until year-end is the most likely outcome.
Mixed comments last week by members of the governing council raised doubts over the ECB's resolve to add further stimulus next month. But the message from senior figures and Mr. Draghi remains that the Central Bank intends to "re-assess" its monetary policy tools in December. Our main reading of last month's meeting is that Mr. Draghi effectively pre-committed to further easing. This raises downside risks in the event of no action, but the President normally doesn't disappoint the market in these instances.
The final July PMIs indicate that the post-referendum slump in activity has been even worse than the flash estimates originally implied. The manufacturing PMI was revised down to 48.2, from the 49.1 flash reading, while the services PMI was unrevised at 47.4, its lowest level since March 2009.
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.
The PMI survey points to a slight loss of momentum in Eurozone growth towards the end of Q3. The composite index fell to 53.6 in September from 54.3 in August, trivially lower than the initial estimate of 53.9. This is not enough to move the needle on the survey's signal for Q3 GDP growth, though; our first chart shows it pointing to stable growth of 0.4% quarter-on-quarter.
The sell-off in bonds and equities continued yesterday, but the reaction bears no resemblance, so far, to the sovereign debt crises in 2012 and 2010. The first evidence from sentiment data in July also points to surprising stability. The headline Sentix index rose to 18.5, up slightly from 17.1 in June, but the expectations index fell marginally, to 22.3 from 22.5.
A Reuters interview yesterday with ECB governing council member Benoît Coeuré cemented expectations that the ECB will adjust its language on forward guidance next month.
China's FX reserves rose to $3119B in November from $3109B in October. But the increase is explained by simultaneous yen, euro and sterling strength, which raises the dollar value of assets denominated in these currencies.
Inflation pressures in the Eurozone probably firmed slightly in August. Data yesterday showed that inflation in Germany and Spain rose by 0.1 percentage points to 1.8% and 1.6% year-over-year respectively, and we are also pencilling-in an increase in French inflation today, ahead of the aggregate EZ report.
Yesterday's data kicked off the release of Eurozone Q3 growth numbers with a robust Spanish headline. Real GDP in Spain rose 0.8% quarter-on-quarter, slowing slightly from 0.9% in Q2, and le aving the year-over-year rate unchanged at 3.1%.
For some economists and political analysts the surprising result of the U.K.'s EU referendum symbolises one of the biggest threats to the structure of the post-war social-liberal market economy. To this school of thought, the vote proved that the discontent of a pressured and disenfranchised working/middle class is rising, threatening to topple economies and political institutions.
Final October PMI data today will confirm the Eurozone's recovery remains on track. We think the composite PMI rose to 54.0 from 53.6 in September, in line with the consensus and initial estimate. Data on Monday showed that manufacturing performed better than expected in October, and the composite index likely will enjoy a further boost from solid services. The PMIs currently point to a trend in GDP growth of 0.4%-to-0.5% quarter-on-quarter, the strongest performance since the last recession.
The Greek polls released Sunday evening indicate a comfortable victory for "no," rejecting the latest EU proposal. This is not a good outcome for the market, and volatility will likely increase substantially today. The result--not confirmed as we go to press but very clearly indicated by the count so far--gives an air of legitimacy to Syriza's brinkmanship, but the creditors' reaction to a "no" vote, which they likely did not expect, is uncertain.
Mr Abe's Liberal Democratic Party took a drubbing at the polls in Tokyo's Assembly election over the weekend. The consequences for fiscal spending probably are minimal but the vote strengthens the case for increased emphasis on the structural reform "arrow" and less focus on monetary policy.
In principle, predicting the interest rate policies of an inflation-targeting central bank should be simple. Our first chart shows a standard Taylor Rule rate for the Eurozone based on the ECB's inflation target of 2%, the long-run average unemployment rate and a long run "equilibrium interest rate" of 1.5%. This framework historically has been a decent guide to ECB policy.
This week's detailed Q3 GDP data will confirm that the euro area economy is going from strength to strength.
The recent deal between Greece and the EU shows that the appetite for a repeat of last year's chaos is low. But investors' attention has turned to whether Portugal is waiting in the wings to reignite the sovereign debt crisis. Complacency is dangerous, but economic data suggest that a Portuguese shock to the Eurozone economy and financial markets is unlikely this year.
Political risks in the periphery have simmered constantly during this cyclical recovery, but they have increased recently. In Italy, the government is scrambling to find a solution to rid its ailing banking sector of bad loans. But recapitalisation via a bad bank is not possible under new EU rules.
The MPC's package of stimulus measures, which exceeded markets' expectations, demonstrates that it is currently placing little weight on the inflation outlook. Even so, if inflation matches our expectations and overshoots the 2% target by a bigger margin next year than the MPC currently thinks is acceptable, it will have to consider its zeal for more stimulus.
Advance inflation data from Germany and Spain yesterday indicate that the Eurozone slipped back into deflation in September. German inflation fell to 0.0% in September from 0.2% in August, and deflation intensified in Spain as inflation fell to -0.9% from -0.4% last month. This likely pushed the advance Eurozone estimate--released today--below zero. We think inflation fell to -0.1% in September, down from +0.1% in August. The fall will be due mainly to falling energy prices, and we continue to think that the underlying trend in inflation is stabilising, or even turning up.
Japan's services sector PMI last week was disappointing.
The Chancellor indicated yesterday that the current fiscal plans--which set out a 1% of GDP reduction in the structural budget deficit this year--will remain in place until a new Prime Minister is chosen by September 2. So for now, the burden of leaning against the imminent downturn is on the MPC's shoulders.
This year has been a story of two halves for EZ equities. The MSCI EU ex-UK jumped 11% in the first five months of 2017, but has since struggled to push higher.
The presumption in markets is that the French presidential election is the last hurdle to be overcome in the EZ economy. As long as Marine Le Pen is kept out of l'Élysée, animal spirits will be released in the economy and financial markets. We concede that a Le Pen victory would result in chaos, at least in the short run. Bond spreads would widen, equities would crash and the euro would plummet. But we also suspect that such volatility would be short-lived, similar to the convulsions after Brexit.
okThe weekend's election result in Spain provided relief for investors anxiously looking for another "surprise." Exit polls on Sunday showed a big majority for the anti-establishment party Podemos, but in the end Spanish voters opted for safety. The incumbent Partido Popular, PP, was the election's big winner compared with the elections six months ago, gaining 15 seats.
Mr. Draghi's speech yesterday in Portugal, at the ECB forum on Central Banking, pushed the euro and EZ government bond yields higher. The markets' hawkish interpretation was linked to the president's comment that "The threat of deflation is gone and reflationary forces are at play."
Money supply data continue to send a bullish message on the euro area economy. Broad money growth was unchanged at 5.0% year-over-year in June, but M1 growth surged to 11.8%, from 11.2% in May. Combined with low inflation, real M1--the best leading indicator in the Eurozone--indicates a surge in GDP growth on par with previous record business cycle upturns in 1999, 2005-06 and 2009-10.
The headline in yesterday's EZ money supply report gave the illusion that monetary conditions are stable, but the details tell a different story. M3 growth accelerated marginally to 5.0% year-over-year in June, from 4.9%, but momentum in narrow money fell further. M1 growth slowed to 8.5% year-over-year, from 9.0% in May due to a fall in overnight deposits and currency in circulation.
Many investors are betting that the MPC will announce a bold package of easing measures on Thursday. For a start, overnight index swap markets are pricing-in a 98% probability that the MPC will cut Bank Rate to 0.25%, and a 30% chance that interest rates will fall to, or below, zero by the end of the year.
Inflation pressures in the Eurozone are building rapidly, setting up an "interesting" ECB meeting next week. Yesterday's advance CPI report showed that inflation edged up further in February to 2.0%, from 1.8% in January. The headline rate is now in line with the ECB's target, and up sharply from the average of 0.2% last year.
Advance country data indicate that headline EZ inflation fell slightly in June; we think the rate dipped to 1.3% year-over-year, from 1.4% in May.
Bond market volatility and political turmoil in Greece have been the key drivers of an abysmal second quarter for Eurozone equities. Recent panic in Chinese markets has further increased the pressure, adding to the wall of worry for investors. A correction in stocks is not alarming, though, following the surge in Q1 from the lows in October. The total return-- year-to-date in euros--for the benchmark MSCI EU ex-UK index remains a respectable 11.4%.
The impending retirement of New York Fed president Dudley creates yet another vacancy on the FOMC.
Money supply data in the euro point to a cyclical peak in GDP growth this year. Headline M3 growth fell to 4.8% year-over-year in July, from 5.0% in June, chiefly due to a slowdown in narrow money. M1 growth declined to 8.4%, from 8.7%, as a result of weaker momentum in overnight deposits and currency in circulation.
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.
Trade data yesterday added to the downbeat impression of the German economy, following poor manufacturing data earlier in the week. Exports plunged 5.2% month-to-month in August--the second biggest monthly fall ever--pushing the year-over-year rate down to 4.4%, from a revised 6.3% in July. Surging growth in the past six months, and base effects pointed to a big fall in August, but we didn't expect a collapse.
Consumers' spending in the euro area weakened at the end of Q4, but we think households will continue to boost GDP growth in the first quarter. Data on Friday showed that retail sales fell 0.3% month-to-month in December, pushing the year-over-year rate down to 1.1%, from a revised 2.8% in November.
Yesterday's ECB meeting painted a picture of a central bank in wait-and-see mode. The main refinancing and deposit rates were kept at 0.00% and -0.4% respectively, and the marginal lending facility rate also was unchanged at 0.25%.
The euro's spectacular rise against the pound has been the key story in European FX markets recently. But the trade-weighted euro, however, is up "only" 6% year-to-date, as a result of the relatively stable EURUSD.
GDP data today will probably show that the Eurozone economy accelerated to 0.3% quarter-on-quarter in Q4, up from 0.2% a quarter earlier. Industrial production came in disappointingly at 0.0% month-to-month in December, but this is not enough to change our forecast in the light of solid data on household spending.
We struggle to see how the pro-separatist movement in Catalonia can move forward from here.
The renewed decline in bond EZ bond yields has raised the question of whether inflation expectations will recover at all in this cycle. We think they will, and we also believe 10-year yields will rise towards 1%-to-1.2% towards the end of the year. But two factors will keep inflation expectations and yields in check in the near term.
Industrial production in the Eurozone was probably unchanged in January equivalent to a 0.2% fall year-over-year. This is slightly below the consensus for a 0.2% rise month-to-month, mainly due to the downside surprises in m/m data in Italy and Germany released previously.
The draft Eurogroup document circulated Sunday evening indicates that European leaders seemingly are willing to offer Greece a new bailout. But it is conditional on passing required legislation reforming pensions and taxes on Wednesday. A "time-out" from the Eurozone, was discussed as a bizarre alternative, but this would be the equivalent of Grexit and default.
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.
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.
Car registrations, French inflation, advance PMIs and a central bank meeting make up today's substantial menu for investors in the euro area.
At today's MPC meeting, the centre of gravity of the policy debate is likely to shift towards the merits of raising interest rates, rather than cutting them. CPI inflation rose from 0.3% in February to 0.5% in March, one tenth above the MPC's forecast in February's Inflation Report.
Industrial production data yesterday confirmed downside risks to today's GDP data in the Eurozone. Output fell 0.3% month-to-month in September, pushing the year-over-year rate down to 1.7% from a revised 2.2% in August. Weakness in Germany was the main culprit, amid stronger data in the other major economies. A GDP estimate based on available data for industrial production and retail sales point to a quarterly growth rate of 0.4% quarter-on-quarter, but we think growth was rather lower, just 0.2%, due to a drag from net trade.
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.
Demand for new cars in the Eurozone rebounded last month. New car registrations jumped 10.3% year-over-year in May, reversing the 5.1% decline in April. The headline was boosted by solid growth in all the major economies.
September's Markit/CIPS services survey added to the evidence indicating that GDP growth softened, rather than fell off a cliff, in the third quarter. The activity index edged down only to 52.6, from 52.9 in August.
Strong real M1 growth suggests the cyclical recovery is in good shape. But recent economic data indicate GDP growth slowed in Q4, and survey evidence deteriorated in January. This slightly downbeat message, however, is a far cry from the horror story told by financial markets. The recent collapse in stock-to-bond returns extends the decline which began in Q2 last year, signalling the Eurozone is on the brink of recession.
Distinguishing between the structural and cyclical story is crucial to understanding the inflation picture in the Eurozone. Nobel laureate Paul Krugman recently lamented--New York Times, March 1st--that the Eurozone economy appears to be stalling. We doubt the outlook for GDP growth this year is that dire.
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.
The relatively upbeat message from a plethora of Eurozone data this week remains firmly sidelined by chaos in equity and credit markets. EZ Equities struggled towards the end of last year in the aftermath of the disappointing ECB stimulus package, and now, renewed weakness in oil prices and further Chinese currency devaluation have added pressure, by refocusing attention on already weak areas in the global economy.
Inflation in the euro area edged higher in November, but our prediction of a rebound in the core proved to be wrong. Headline inflation increased to 1.5% in November, from 1.4% in October.
The ECB atoned for its "mistake" in December yesterday by delivering a new easing package that significantly beat markets' expectations. The central bank cut its main refi and marginal lending facility rates by 0.05 percentage points, to 0.00% and 0.25% respectively.
The stakes are raised ahead of today's ECB meeting after the central bank's pledge in January to "review and reassess" its policy stance. Since then, survey data have weakened, inflation has fallen and volatility in financial markets has increased. The ECB likely will act accordingly and deliver a boost to monetary stimulus today.
Yesterday's aggregate economic data for the euro area showed that inflation rose slightly in August. The headline rate rose to a four-month high of 1.5% in August from 1.3% in July. The rate was lifted mainly by energy inflation, rising to 4.6% from 2.2% in July, but we think the rebound will be short-lived.
The EU and Greece finally managed to agree on the framework for a third bailout yesterday, conditional on ratification in the Greek and EU parliaments this week. Mr. Tsipras' capitulation to EU demands will increase tensions within Syriza, but we expect the opposition comfortably to offset any government dissenters in this week's vote.
If sustained, sterling's recent depreciation looks set to drive CPI inflation up to about 3.5% by the end of next year.
Yesterday's sole economic report showed that the Eurozone's external surplus recovered ground over the summer, but we don't think the rebound will last long.
The market for new cars in the Eurozone remained red-hot last month. New registrations surged 18.4% year-over-year in May, up from a 9.4% rise in April, and pushing the 12-month average level of registrations to a post-crisis high of 843K units. Accelerating growth in Italy and France was the key driver.
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.
Net exports in the euro area likely rebounded in Q4. The headline EZ trade surplus rose to €22.7B in November from €19.7B in October. Exports jumped 3.3% month-to-month, primarily as a result of strong data in Germany and France, offsetting a 1.8% rise in imports. Over Q4 as a whole, we are confident that net exports gave a slight boost to eurozone GDP growth, adding 0.1 percentage points to quarter-on-quarter growth.
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.
The Eurozone inflation data have been relatively calm in the past six months. The headline rate has been stable at about 1.5%, and the core rate has fluctuated closely around 1%.
The benchmark MSCI EU ex-UK equity index was down a startling 17% year-over-year at the end of February. A disappointing policy package from the ECB in December initially put Eurozone equities on the back foot, and the awful start to the year for global risk assets has since piled on the misery.
Today's ZEW investor sentiment report in Germany will kick off a busy week for Eurozone economic survey data, which likely will be tainted by the U.K. referendum result. We think the headline ZEW expectations index fell to about five in July, from 19.2 in June, below the consensus forecast, 9.2. Our forecastis based on the experience from recent "unexpected" shocks to investors' sentiment.
The Portuguese economy has faltered recently. In the year to Q2, real GDP rose only 0.8%, down from a 1.5% increase in the preceding year. Slowing growth in investment has been the key driver, but consumers' spending has weakened too.
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.
EZ households' demand for new cars was off to a strong start in 2017. Car registrations in the euro area jumped 10.9% year-over-year in January, accelerating from a 2.1% rise in December. We have to discount the headline level of sales by about a fifth to account for dealers' own registrations. Even with this provision, though, the January report was solid. Growth rebounded in France and Germany, and a 27.1% surge in Dutch car registrations also lifted the headline. We think car registrations will rise about 1.5% quarter-onquarter in Q1, rebounding from a weak Q4. But this does not change the story of downside risks to private spending.
The ECB's negative interest rate policy--NIRP--has come under the spotlight following the violent selloff in Eurozone bank equities. Mr. Draghi reassured markets and the EU parliament earlier this week that new regulation, stronger capital buffers, and common recognition of non-performing loans have made Eurozone banks stronger.
Markets' reaction last week to the ECB's October meeting accounts--see here--shows that investors are beginning to take seriously the idea of an inflection point in Eurozone monetary policy.
France just about avoided slipping into deflation in December, with the CPI rising 0.1% year-over-year, down from 0.3% in November. The 4.4% drop in the energy component should have pushed inflation below zero, but a seasonal increase in tourism services was enough to offset the drag from oil prices.
Negotiations between the Italian government and the EU on how to fix the problem of non-performing loans in the banking sector have been predictably slow. Earlier this year the government announced that it will provide a first-loss guarantee on securitised loans sold to private investors.
German inflation pressures are rising. Yesterday's final September CPI report showed that inflation rose to 0.7% year-over-year, from 0.4% in August, chiefly as a result of continued easing of deflation in energy prices.
Mr. Draghi's introductory statement before yesterday's hearing at the European Parliament repeated that the ECB will "review and possibly reconsider its monetary policy stance in March." But it didn't provide any conclusive smoking gun that further easing is a done deal.
Japanese M2 growth slowed sharply in December, to 3.6% year-over-year, from 4.0% in November, with M3 growth weakening similarly. It is tempting to ask if the BoJ's stealth taper finally is damaging broad money growth.
Yesterday's GDP reports confirmed that growth was stable at 0.3% quarter-on-quarter in the Eurozone, leaving the year-over-year rate unchanged at 1.5%. Rebounding growth outside Germany, which has been a main driver of EZ GDP growth in this cycle, was the key story.
Eurozone GDP data on Friday were better than we expected, but were still soft compared to upbeat market expectations. Real GDP rose 0.3% quarter-onquarter in the third quarter, down slightly from 0.4% in Q2, and lower than the consensus forecast for another 0.4% gain. These data are not a blank check for ECB doves, but they probably are enough to push through further easing in December. This looks odd given growth in the last four quarters of an annualised 1.6%--the strongest since 2011--and probably slightly above the long-run growth rate.
Mr. Macron will be in Berlin today with the message that France wants a strong Eurozone and a tight relationship with Germany. Friendly overtures between Paris and Berlin are good news for investors; they reduce political uncertainty while increasing the chance that the economic recovery will continue. But it is too early to get excited about closer fiscal coordination, let alone a common EZ fiscal policy and bond issuance.
Consumers' spending has staged an impressive recovery in the Eurozone, and remains the key driver of accelerating GDP growth. Outside Germany, however, households have struggled, and are still faced with tight credit conditions.
Data later today will likely show that the Eurozone's external balance remained firm last quarter at a record 2.5% of GDP. We think the seasonally adjusted current account surplus rose to €20.0B in December from €18.1B in November, with positive momentum in the key components continuing.
Yesterday's EZ CPI report points to a dovish backdrop for next week's ECB meeting. Advance data show that inflation was unchanged at 0.2% year-overyear in August, lower than the consensus, 0.3%. The headline was held back by a dip in the core rate to 0.8%, from 0.9% in July; this offset a lower deflationary drag from energy prices.
Inflation in the Eurozone rose modestly last month. Yesterday's advance CPI report showed the headline rate rising to 0.6% year-over-year in November, from 0.5% in October, mainly because of a jump in fresh food inflation. Energy prices fell 1.1% year-over-year, slightly more than the 0.9% decline in October, but we expect a sharp increase over the next six months.
The political drama in Greece will continue to attract attention this week despite the advent of the holiday season. Prime Minister Samaras will try again tomorrow to secure a majority for his candidate for president, requiring a super majority of 200 votes. If it fails, the last attempt will be on December 29th, where the hurdle for the Prime Minister drops to 180 votes.
Mr. Draghi snubbed investors looking for hints on policy and the euro in his Jackson Hole address--see here--on Friday.
The ECB will receive most of the credit for the recent gain in stock markets, but the main leading indicator for the stock market, excess liquidity, was already turning up late last year. With the MSCI EU ex-UK up 21%, in euro terms, since October, a lot is already priced in, but in the medium term the outlook is upbeat, and we look for further gains this year.
The ECB's corporate bond purchase program began yesterday with purchases concentrated in utilities and telecoms, according to media sources. This is consistent with the structure of the market, and the fact that bond issues by firms in these sectors are the largest and most liquid. But debt issued by consumer staples firms likely also featured prominently.
The divergence between talk and action is steadily widening into a chasm at the ECB. Mr. Draghi continued to strike a dovish tone yesterday reiterating the elevated worries over low inflation and the unanimous commitment to provide further stimulus if needed.
Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis' letter requesting a six-month loan extension has been interpreted widely as Syriza throwing in the towel. But we don't see this way. The best possible outcome for Greece is to be able to participate in the ECB's sovereign QE program, and to negotiate a new deal with the Troika; the request for an extension could very well achieve both.
The ECB conformed to expectations today. The main refi rate was left unchanged at 0.00%, and the deposit and marginal lending facility rates also were unchanged, at -0.4% and 0.25% respectively. Similarly, the ECB stuck with the changes to QE made in December. Purchases of €80B per month will continue until March, after which the pace will be reduced to €60B per month and continue until December.
Markets have responded strongly to the ECB's announcement that it will be buying corporate bonds as part of QE. Net corporate debt issuance of non-financial firms jumped €16B in March, the biggest monthly increase since January 2014. The 12-month average, however, was stable at €3.6B, and a sustained increase in net debt supply partly depends on firms' appetite for financial engineering
The ECB won't make any major changes to its policy stance today. We think the central bank will keep its main refinancing rate unchanged at 0.00%, and that it will maintain its deposit and marginal lending facility rate at -0.4% and 0.25%, respectively. The central bank also will keep the pace of QE unchanged at €80B per month until March, and at €60B hereafter until December. This is the first ECB meeting for some time in which Mr. Draghi will be able to report significantly higher inflation in the euro area.
Barring a gigantic shock from the Fed this week--we expect a 25bp hike--Eurozone equities will end the year with a solid return for investors, who have been overweight. Total return of the MSCI EU ex-UK should come in around 10%, which compares to a likely flat return for the MSCI World, reflecting the boost from the ECB's QE driving out performance. Our first chart shows the index has been mainly lifted by consumer sector, healthcare and IT stocks, comfortably making up for weakness in materials and energy. The year has been a story of two halves, however, and global headwinds have intensified since the summer, partly offsetting the surge in the Q1 as markets celebrated the arrival of QE and negative interest rates.
EZ bond markets were stung earlier this week by a Bloomberg story suggesting that the ECB, in principle, has agreed on a QE exit strategy which involves "tapering" purchases by €10B per month. The story also specified, though, that the central bank has not discussed when tapering will begin.
One of the main conclusions we drew from last week's ECB meeting was that the QE program is here to stay for a while. If the economy improves, the central bank could reduce the pace of purchases further. But we struggle to come up with a forecast for growth and inflation next year that would allow the ECB to signal that QE is coming to an end.
Investors in Eurozone banks continue to face uncertain times, despite the ECB's best efforts to prop up the economy and financial markets via QE. The latest hit to confidence comes from the bail-in of selected senior debt in Portugal's Banco Espirito Santo. When the troubled lender was restructured in mid-2014, the equity and junior debt were left in a "bad" bank--and were virtually wiped out--while the deposits and senior debt went into the "good" bank Novo Banco. Senior debt holders expecting to recoup their money, however, were startled earlier this month by the decision to "re-assign" five selected bonds with total face value of €2B from Novo Banco to the bad bank, in effect wiping out the investors.
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.
CHF traders, and the rest of the market, were blindsided yesterday by the decision of the SNB to scrap the 1.20 EURCHF floor. The SNB has already boosted its balance sheet to about 85% of GDP to prevent the CHF from appreciating, and with the ECB on the brink of adding sovereign bonds to its QE program, the peg was simply indefensible.
Mr. Draghi's pledge in 2012 to do "whatever it takes to preserve the euro," and QE have stymied sovereign debt risk in the euro area. At the same time, the EU's relaxed position over debt sustainability was highlighted earlier this year by the Commission's decision to give France two more years to get its deficit below 3% of GDP. But Moody's downgrade of the French government bond rating last week to Aa2 from Aa1 serves as a gentle reminder to investors of the underlying fundamentals.
The headline changes in yesterday's ECB policy announcement were largely as expected. The central bank left its main refinancing and deposit rates unchanged at 0.00% and -0.4% respectively, and maintained the pace of QE at €60B per month. The central bank also delivered the two expected changes to its introductory statement. The reference to "lower levels" was removed from the forward guidance on rates, signalling that the ECB does not expect that rates will be lowered anytime soon.
We predict no major policy changes at the ECB today. We think the central bank will leave its main refinancing and deposit rates unchanged at 0.00% and -0.4%, respectively. We also expect the ECB will leave the pace of QE unchanged at €60 per month until December 2017, at least.
Worries over China and deflation linger...and will likely push the ECB to extend QE this month
The ECB made no changes to its policy stance yesterday. The central bank left its refinancing and deposit rates at 0.00% and -0.4%, respectively, and maintained the pace of QE at €60B per month. The program will run until December "or beyond, if necessary."
The ECB will keep all its policy parameters unchanged today. The refi and deposit rates will be maintained at 0.00% and -0.4%, respectively, and the pace of QE will stay at €60B per month, running until the end of the year.
If the recovery in existing homes hadn't been interrupted by the taper tantrum, in the spring of 2013, sales by now would likely be running at an annualized rate in excess of 6M. The rising trend in sales from late 2010 through early 2013 was strong and stable, as our first chart shows, but the decline was steep after the Fed signalled it would soon slow the pace of QE, and it was made temporarily worse by the severe late fall and early winter weather.
Yesterday's ZEW investor sentiment in Germany shows showed no signs that uncertainty over the U.K. referendum is taking its toll on EZ investors. The expectations index surged to 19.2 in June, from 6.4 in May, the biggest month-to-month jump since January last year, when investors were eagerly expecting the ECB's QE announcement.
Last week's QE announcement has made Eurozone inflation prints less important for investors, but the market will still be watching for signs of a turning point in benchmark bond yields. The data are unlikely to challenge bond holders in the short run, however, as the Eurozone probably slipped deeper into deflation in January.
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.
Chief U.S. Economist Ian Shepherdson on the Fed
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