Global Investing

Will Lithuania fly like a hawk or a dove at the ECB?

No one will really know how Lithuania will impact European Central Bank monetary policy until the country gets a seat at the table. That is expected to happen in 2015, provided the last of the three Baltic nations meets the criteria to become the euro zone’s 19th member. We’ll all find out in early June.

The ECB’s monetary policy remains at its loosest (main refinancing rate is just 0.25 pct) since the bank assumed central banking responsibilities for the euro area 15 years ago. My Frankfurt-based colleague, Eva Taylor, explained earlier this month that the addition of Lithuania will change the voting patterns of the ECB, curbing smaller members’ perceived influence and giving more weight to the center.

Here in New York, Lithuania’s Economy Minister Evaldas Gustas, along with Mantas Nocius, who heads up the ministry’s enterprise department, presented investors with an overview of the economy. When asked if Bank of Lithuania Governor Vitas Vasiliauskas would be a hawk or a dove should Lithuania join the euro zone in 2015, the answer, at least from Nocius, was as sharp as a claw.

“Not that complicated. Yes, Lithuanians, they are a bit hawkish, as the other two Baltic neighbors, because of our tradition,” Nocius said.

He elaborated further: “We are close to Nordics and we think we have to be very prudent in financial issues. I would very much expect that the governor of the Bank of Lithuania, Vitas Vasiliauskas, he is likely to behave in a similar way as Estonia and Latvian counterparts. Definitely, they discuss a lot and meet quite often. I think this is a case where we can talk about cooperation. Also, our current president, she is a former minister of finance and former budget commissioner. I think it would be consistent to think that the governor of the bank of Lithuania is going to take a rather hawkish position.”

Will Poland have an “ECB moment”?

When Poland stunned markets in May with a quarter-point rate rise, analysts at Capital Economics predicted that the central bank would have an “ECB moment” before the year was over, a reference to the European Central Bank’s decision to cut interest rates last year, just months after it hiked them. A slew of weak economic data, from industrial output to retail sales and employment, indicates the ECB moment could arrive sooner than expected. PMI readings today shows the manufacturing business climate deteriorated for the fourth straight month, remaining in contraction territory.

With central banks all around intent on cutting rates, markets, unsurprisingly, are betting on easing in Poland as well. A 25 bps cut is priced for September and 75 bps for the next 12 months, encouraged by dovish comments from a couple of board members (one of whom had backed May’s decision to raise rates). Bond yields have fallen by 60-80 basis points.

Marcin Mrowiec, chief economist at Bank Pekao says:

The market should continue to expect that the (central bank) will unwind the rate hike delivered in May.

from MacroScope:

Central bank balance sheets: Battle of the bulge

Central banks across the industrialized world responded aggressively to the global financial crisis that began in mid-2007 and in many ways remains with us today. Now, faced with sluggish recoveries, policymakers are reticent to embark on further unconventional monetary easing, fearing both internal criticism and political blowback. They are being forced to rely more on verbal guidance than actual stimulus to prevent markets from pricing in higher rates.

How do the world’s most prominent central banks stack up against each other? The Federal Reserve was extremely aggressive, more than tripling the size of its balance sheet from around $700-$800 billion pre-crisis to nearly 3 trillion today. Still, the ECB’s total asset holdings are actually larger than the Fed’s – it started from a higher base.

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The Bank of England, for its part, went even deeper into uncharted territory, with its assets as a percentage of GDP surpassing the Fed’s. By the same measure, the ECB has overtaken the Bank of Japan, which has been grappling with deflation for some two decades and started from a much higher level.

Emerging Markets: the love story

It is Valentine’s day and emerging markets are certainly feeling the love. Bank of America/Merrill Lynch‘s monthly investor survey shows a ‘stunning’ rise in allocations to emerging markets in February. Forty-four percent of  asset allocators are now overweight emerging market equities this month, up from 20 percent in January — the second biggest monthly jump in the past 12 years. Emerging markets are once again investors’ favourite asset class.

Looking ahead, 36 percent of respondents said they would like to overweight emerging markets more than any other region, with investors saying they would underweight all other regions, including the United States. Meanwhile investor faith in China has rebounded  with only 2 percent of investors believing the Chinese economy will weaken over the next year, down from 23 percent in January. China also regained its crown of most favoured emerging market in February.

Last year, the main EM index plummeted more than 20 percent as emerging assets fell from favour. So what is the reason for this renewed passion in 2012?

from Jeremy Gaunt:

The unsyncopated rhythm of central banks

The European Central Bank is off and running with its tightening cycle -- raising by 25 basis points last week and talking in tongues enough to persuade markets that another hike is coming by July.  At the same time, the Fed -- despite some hawkish comments recently about QE -- isn't seen actually tightening for some time. Next year, actually.

Bank of America-Merrill Lynch is now wondering whether there is something wrong with this. " Surely one of these central banks is heading to a painful policy mistake? " it says.

Key to the question is the fact that U.S. and euro zone economics are not as far apart normally as one might think. Take growth, where there is a 0.6 positive correlation between the two across business cycles. Or inflation. The correlation there is even greater at a positive 0.75 over a whole economic cycle.

from MacroScope:

The nuclear option for financial crises

They finally realised how serious it was. With stock markets tumbling, bond yields on vulnerable debt blowing out and the euro in danger of failing its first big stress test,  the European Union and International Monetary Fund came out with a huge rescue plan.

At 750 billion euros (500 billion from the EU; 250 billion from the IMF), the rescue package is the equivalent of taking a huge mallet to a loose tent peg.  Add to that an agreement among central banks to help out and the actual purchase of euro zone bonds by Europe's central banks and you turn the mallet into a pile driver.

That tent is not going anywhere for now.

Does this remind anyone of anything? How about a lot of small attempts to stop the subprime/Lehman crisis failing, only to be followed by the  likes of the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program in the United States?

The Big Five: themes for the week ahead

Five things to think about this week:

APPETITE TO CHASE? 
- Equity bulls have managed to retain the upper hand so far and the MSCI world index is up almost 50 percent from its March lows. However, earnings may need to show signs of rebounding for the rally’s momentum to be sustained. Even those looking for further equity gains think the rise in stock prices will lag that in earnings once the earnings recovery gets underway, as was the case in past cycles. The symmetry/asymmetry of market reaction to data this week — as much from China as from the major developed economies — will show how much appetite there is to keep chasing the rally higher. 

TAKING CONSUMERS’ PULSE 
- A better picture of the health of the consumer will emerge this week as U.S. retailers’ earnings coincides with the release of U.S. July retail sales data and the UK BRC retail survey comes out on the other side of the Atlantic. With joblessness still rising, the reports will show how willing households are to spend and whether deep discounts, which eat into retailers’ profit margins, are the only thing that will tempt them to shop — both key issues for the macroeconomic and corporate outlook. 

CENTRAL BANK WATCH 
- After last week’s Bank of England surprise, all eyes turn to what sort of signals the U.S. Federal Reserve and Bank of Japan will send on the outlook for their respective economies and QE programmes. After the BOE’s expansion of its QE programme the short sterling strip repriced how soon UK rates would rise. But the broader trend recently in the U.S., euro zone and the UK has been to discount rate rises in 2010 — and possibly as soon as this year in Australia. Benchmark interbank euro rates have risen for the first time in two months, and central bankers everywhere, including China, face the delicate balancing act of managing monetary tightening expectations in the months ahead. 

The Big Five: themes for the week ahead

Five things to think about this week

TUSSLE FOR DIRECTION
- The tussle between bullish and bearish inclinations — with bears gaining a bit of ground so far this month — is being played out over both earnings and economic data. Alcoa got the U.S. earnings season off to a good start but a heavier results week lies ahead and could toss some banana skins into the market’s path. Key financials, technology bellwethers (IBM, Google, Intel), as well as big names like GE, Nokia, Johnson and Johnson will offer more food for thought for those looking past the simple defensive versus cyclical split to choices between early cylicals, such as consumer discretionaries, and late cyclicals, such as industrials, based on the short-term earnings momentum. Macroeconomic data will need to confirm the picture painted by last week’s unexpectedly German strong orders and production figures to give bulls the upper hand.

FINANCIAL FOCUS
- The heavy financial results slate (Goldman, JP Morgan, Bank of America, Citi) will show the extent to which balance sheets are being cleansed of toxic assets and the health of, and outlook for margins, trading revenues, etc. The relative performance of the firms reporting could put the spotlight on the split between investment banking and retail exposure. In Europe, Swedbank’s results will be watched for Baltic exposure while clarity is still being sought on what banks plan to do with the large chunk of ECB one-year money which they continue to park back at the ECB in the form of overnight deposits.

JAPANESE DILEMMA
- The BOJ’s policy meeting poses thorny questions on quantitative easing (QE), with the policy debate complicated by sharp gains in the yen. The yen has risen as much as 10.5 percent in three months against the dollar and is nearing the 90 threshold which is viewed by the foreign exchanges as the point at which the Japanese authorities start ratcheting up the rhetoric. Further sustained yen gains will fuel market debate about the fallout for carry trades and for exporters — and by extension economic activity.

The Big Five: themes for the week ahead

Five things to think about this week:

STALLING RALLY
- The global equity market rally has stalled in June and is threatening to go into reverse. With this week effectively the last full week of the second quarter, the temptation for many funds to book profits on such a lucrative quarter will be high. Any knock on boost to volatility would pose more risks for some of the trades that looked the most attractive in a lower volatility environment, such as cyclical versus defensives plays, emerging markets, and foreign exchange carry trades.

POLICY, SUPPLY RISKS FOR BONDS
- How the U.S. Federal Reserve will respond to the interest rate market gyrations of the past month has been a key market talking point. Questions centre on whether it will expand the size of buybacks, whether there will be any change in the length of time the buyback programme lasts, whether the central bank makes any effort to unwind the rise in bond yields seen in the past months, and whether there will be any talk of an exit strategy. Another risk to the front end will be the Treasury refinancing, which resumes after a week of no supply and will be concentrating on the shorter end.

WHAT COLOUR ARE THE SHOOTS
- This week’s data will show both whether the inventory rebuilding that was priced in over recent months is actually materialising and whether there are any other drivers of economic activity out there. The flash PMI in Europe and sentiment indicators will be particularly relevant in deciding on the latter issue, with consumer and income data out from both sides of the Atlantic providing an additional window on how domestic demand is shaping up.

from MacroScope:

Big five

Five things to think about this week:

-- IS RATE OF ECONOMIC CONTRACTION SLOWING?
Some economic reports have been pointing to a slowdown in the pace at which economic conditions are deteriorating -- eg U.S. home sales data; auto sales data; PMIs; UK lenders seeing improved credit availability in Q2, and PMI data. While job destruction is continuing apace, signs that inventories are being drawn down leave room for hope for those inclined to look for the silver lining, or even seek a bottom to the current downturn.

-- REBOUND MOMENTUM
Investors are wondering whether equity markets can extend a solid Q2 start now that major fiscal stimulus announcements, rate cuts, QE  (in most developed economies), the London G20 meeting, and other big milestones are largely behind them. A sustained narrowing of corporate spreads, the VIX clearly breaking out of ranges that have held post-Lehman, and any shift out of defensive stocks are just some of the signals that would suggest that the rebound has legs.

-- QE CLUB
The European Central Bank opted to wait another month before deciding on whether to join the QE club and unexpectedly left itself room for a further refi cut. By contrast, curveballs are unlikely from Bank of England and Bank of Japan policy meetings given their quantitative easings are under way. The relative performance of their respective sovereign debt markets is in focus as a result, as are the inflation outlooks being priced in by index-linked paper at a time when some are pondering the longer-term fallout of QE policy. The Reserve Bank of Ausstralia also meets this week week but markets finding it tough to call the outcome.