Reuters blog archive
Rants from TV commentators aside, the market’s going to be keenly focused on Janet Yellen’s congressional testimony today, with a specific eye toward whether the Fed chair moderates her concerns about joblessness, under-employment and the overall dynamism of the labor force that has been left somewhat wanting in this recovery. The June jobs report, where payrolls grew by 288,000, was welcome news even as the economy continues to suffer due to low labor-force participation and weak wage growth.
Inflation figures are starting to show some sense of firming in various areas, for sure, but still not at a point that argues for a sharp move in Fed rates just yet. Overall, a look at Eurodollar futures still suggests the market sees a gradual, very slow uptick in overall rates – the current difference between the June 2015 futures and June 2016 futures are less than a full percentage point – not as low as it was in May of this year, but still lower than peaks seen in March and April 2014 and in the third quarter of 2013, before a run of weak economic figures and comments from Fed officials themselves scared people again into thinking that the markets would never end up seeing another rate hike, like, ever again.
Now the expectations for Fed moves have coalesced around late in the first half of 2015 for at least the first token rate rises, and it might even be a bit sooner depending on what happens with employment and inflation figures. On this front, Liz Ann Sonders of Charles Schwab points out that some of the leading and coincident indicators for the labor market look promising - noting that the jobless rate overall and the payroll figures are lagging indicators.
She points out that private-sector employment is up 9 percent since the end of the recession, outpacing the economy's overall 5.9 percent growth rate - and that's clearly due to a lot of local and state government austerity that was forced upon municipalities and other localities due to diving tax revenues and weak growth. Government employment didn't finally trough until mid-2013, and has since started to come up a bit more, but it's still down 3 percent from the end of the recession; the gains in private employment don't completely obviate whatever need there is for government jobs and services - particularly if federal and state employment tends to be middle-class labor.
A few thoughts as the market heads into a relatively quiet week featuring mostly Federal Reserve speakers and a few other random events that aren't likely to knock the market to its knees:
Bear markets don't just start "because," as Dan Greenhaus of BTIG puts it. Usually there are a few factors, but most often it's some combination of speculative excess, tightening rates, and a reduction in that bit of froth in an area that's crucial to the bull market or economic expansion in question. When technology investing money dried up and the companies that sold shares to the public foundering on a lack of earnings, the tech bubble was unwound pretty quickly. The financial crisis came about as banks became unable to handle the volume of debt that had been sold and as the Fed raised rates, sapping demand in the "greater fool" housing market, and as the banks ate themselves under synthetic products that weren't anything underlying. So with that in mind, what's the speculative excess now? Probably the overall thing is ultimate low rates, because when that does go, the market is going to view growth differently.
The expectation for higher rates is a primary underpinning for overall investor nervousness. If rates are higher, the expansion is threatened, and inflation becomes an issue. It's not that those conditions exist now, but the prevailing view for rising rates explains in many ways why this bull market is as loathed as it is. People remain wary of making bets in this market, even if retail investors would have been handsomely rewarded by getting in at any morn, so that's point in favor of them rather than against.
Higher rates often do end up killing a lot of bull markets - and economic expansions - so the inflation figures and the Fed members' beliefs related to the threat of rising prices are all important, and we'll attempt to make sure of the chatter coming from the likes of Charles Plosser, Jeff Lacker and John Williams. So that's the second team when it comes to Fed speakers (Bill Dudley also speaks, but the Puerto Rican economy is the topic) in terms of influence, but still, those views remain important.
Complacency isn't a "thing." As Luciana Lopez and Jennifer Ablan wrote about late last week, the VIX being low isn't a workable assessment of the concerns thousands of investors have about the equity market and economy, particularly when the VIX really only reflects expectations for volatility in the coming couple of weeks and not in any long-term kind of way. So yes, the VIX around 10 doesn't make a lot of sense until you remember it's been about 45 cays where the index hasn't even hit a 1 percent change - so realized volatility has been in the 4 percent range.
By George Hay
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
Brussels has handed banks a tactical quandary. The European Commission’s antitrust arm is preparing to hand some 5 billion euros of fines to the industry for its now-infamous attempts to manipulate interbank lending rates like Euribor and yen Libor. But some banks aren’t willing to settle. They face a tricky choice: buy peace now, or risk the ire of a powerful regulator – and a possibly larger fine later.
The ‘taper tantrum’ of May and June, as the mid-year spike in interest rates became known, appears to have humbled Federal Reserve officials into having a second look at their convictions about the power of forward guidance on interest rate policy.
Take James Bullard, president of the St. Louis Fed. He acknowledged on Friday that the Fed’s view of the separation between rates guidance and asset purchases had not been fully accepted by financial markets. “This presents challenges for the Committee,” he noted.
Central banks in Europe have followed in the Federal Reserve’s footsteps by adopting “forward guidance” in a break with tradition. But, as in the Fed’s case, the increased transparency seems to have only made investors more confused.
The latest instance came as something of an embarrassment for Mark Carney, the Bank of England’s new superstar chief from Canada and a former Goldman Sachs banker. The BoE shifted away from past practice saying it planned to keep interest rates at a record low until unemployment falls to 7 percent or below, which it said could take three years.
By John Foley
(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
China’s central bank has just whetted the appetites of reformists. The People’s Bank of China said on Friday that starting immediately it will let banks lend as cheaply as they like, removing the floor of around 6 percent for one-year loans. It smells like interest-rate liberalisation, but it’s only an amuse-bouche.
By Agnes T. Crane
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
The next economic “It girl” is about to be discovered. In 2008, the obscure Baltic Dry Index was suddenly the subject of every financial conversation. The TED spread and the ABX also briefly rocketed to fame. Now, as investors try to find a telltale gauge of when interest rates will start rising, the JOLTS report, forward curves and the overnight index swap could soon be in vogue.
from Money on the markets:
Finance Minister P. Chidambaram is not the only one walking alone.
Duvvuri Subbarao, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) chief, also seems to be on a solitary, and one hopes, contemplative walk.
from Alison Frankel:
There's a new entry in the category of no-brainers: A holder of Barclays American Depository Receipts has brought the first of what is sure to be a string of Libor-related securities fraud class actions. The 47-page complaint, filed by Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz in federal court in Manhattan, asserts that Barclays and its former CEO, Bob Diamond, and outgoing chairman, Marcus Agius, lied to shareholders when they failed to disclose the bank's manipulation of reports to the authorities who calculate the daily London interbank offered rate (or Libor), a benchmark for short-term interest rates.
Barclays told shareholders that it was a model corporate citizen even though since at least 2007 it was "participating in an illegal scheme to manipulate rates in a way that would allow defendants and other bankers to exploit the market," the complaint asserted. On the day Barclays' settlements with U.S. and British financial regulators were announced, the complaint said, the price of its ADRs fell 12 percent; the next day the ADRs tumbled an additional 5 percent. (If you're wondering why the complaint was filed by ADR holders, it's because Morrison v. National Australia Bank bars claims in the United States by common stockholders in the British-listed bank.)
U.S. Treasuries have taken quite a battering this week, and there has been no shortage of explanations from market pundits. For some, the downturn reflects an improving economy and the pricing out of expectations for further monetary easing from the Federal Reserve. For others, the market is playing catch up after eyeing firmer inflation numbers and a better if still anemic employment backdrop.
The Fed’s statement this week lent itself to a hawkish interpretation since what few changes were made appeared positive. The bond market responded in kind, adding to a selloff that has seen ten-year note yields rise nearly 40 basis points in just over a week. George Goncalves at Nomura describes the price action: