MacroScope

A week to reckon with

The week kicks off with a G8 leaders’ summit in Northern Ireland. Syria will dominate the gathering and the British agenda on tax avoidance is likely to be long on rhetoric, short on specifics. But for the markets, this meeting could still yield some big news. For a start, Japanese prime minister Abe is there – the man who has launched one of the most aggressive stimulus drives in history yet has already seen the yen climb back to the level it held before he started. Abe will also speak in London and Warsaw during the week.

The financial backdrop could hardly be more volatile with emerging markets selling off dramatically since the Federal Reserve warned the pace of its dollar creation could be slowed. Berlin has said the G8 leaders are likely to discuss the role of central banks and monetary policy, and Angela Merkel will hold bilateral talks with Abe during the summit. President Barack Obama travels to Berlin after the summit for talks with Merkel.

The central banks of Turkey, Switzerland and Norway all have monetary policy decisions to make in the coming week and may have some interesting things to say about the revival of market turmoil after months of calm. The Norwegians have said interest rates are likely to stay at 1.5 percent for months to come and the Swiss National Bank is unlikely to loosen its cap on the Swiss franc which has served it so well, particularly given markets are now back in flux and traders are starting to talk about flight-to-safety moves again. The elephant in the room is the Federal Reserve’s latest policy decision on Wednesday, followed by a Ben Bernanke press conference.

The Turks are the hottest story of the moment on our patch with Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan first saying his patience had run out after almost two weeks of anti-government protests, and then sounding more conciliatory, holding talks with protest leaders. How this ends will go a long way to dictating the investor view of Turkey and how its markets recover (if at all) from a drubbing inspired by a perfect storm of domestic and international factors – about $8 billion had fled Turkish markets from the beginning of May to last Wednesday and a gaping current account deficit doesn’t help.
The central bank has already come in to defend the lira and while it said it saw no need to raise the upper band of its interest rate corridor who knows what the next few days will bring. At its May meeting, it cut all its key rates by 50 basis points, but with the lira under huge pressure you can rule out a repeat of that. Indonesia was first out of the blocks in recent days, becoming the first central bank in Asia to raise rates since 2011. It’s early days but a repeat of the capital outflows that marked the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s is an unpleasant reminder of the damage that can be wrought.

The euro zone bears watching as always, now we’re back into turbulent times.

Spain, France and Germany all hold bond auctions during the week with the benevolent bond market conditions of the first five months of the year now gone. Italian and Spanish borrowing costs fell for 10 months after European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi pledged to do whatever it takes to save the euro but have begun creeping up since Bernanke’s intervention. Both countries have frontloaded their funding for this year, so some of the pressure is off. Germany could start to benefit from safe haven status again so maybe France is the most interesting. Its economy is flatlining, the government is railing against exhortations from Berlin and Brussels to raise the pace of structural reform and yet it can still borrow for 10 years at not much more than two percent.

from Global Investing:

Show us the (Japanese) money

Where is the Japanese money? Mostly it has been heading back to home shores as we wrote here yesterday.

The assumption was that the Bank of Japan's huge money-printing campaign would push Japanese retail and institutional investors out in search of yield.  Emerging markets were expected to capture at least part of a potentially huge outflow from Japan and also benefit from rising allocations from other international funds as a result.  But almost a month after the BOJ announced its plans, the cash has not yet arrived.

EM investors, who seem to have been banking the most on the arrival of Japanese cash, may be forgiven for feeling a tad nervous. Data from EPFR Global shows no notable pick-up in flows to EM bond funds while cash continues to flee EM equities ($2 billion left last week).

Yellen-san supportive of BOJ’s aggressive easing

For all the talk about clear communications at the Federal Reserve, central bank Vice Chair Janet Yellen’s speech to the Society of American Business and Economics Writers ran a rather long-winded 16 pages.

However, while Fed board members generally do not take questions from reporters, there was a scheduled audience Q&A which, at this particular event, meant it was effectively a press briefing.

So I asked Yellen, seen as a potential successor to Fed Chair Ben Bernanke when his second term ends early next year, what she thought of Japan’s decision to launch a bold $1.4 trillion stimulus to fight a long-standing problem of deflation and economic stagnation.

A statement of non-intent

The flurry of activity about a G7 currency statement yesterday can now be put in perspective. It will almost certainly happen but it’s very much going through the motions.

We’ve been saying for a while that having urged it to reflate its economy for some time, Japan’s partners could hardly complain now that it is. Lael Brainard of the U.S. Treasury basically let that cat out of the bag last night, warning against competitive devaluations but saying that Washington supported Tokyo’s efforts to reinvigorate growth and end deflation.

What we’ll get is a bland recommitment to market-determined exchange rates and not much more.

Currency chatter

With the rhetoric getting more heated, the three-year market fixation on bond yields could well be supplanted by currencies in the months ahead.

This week, everything points towards the first meeting this year of G20 finance ministers and central bankers in Moscow on Friday and Saturday. We’ve already got a clear steer from sources that even though France wants the strong euro on the agenda there will be little pressure put on Japan and others whose policies are pushing their currencies lower. Having urged Tokyo to reflate its economy last year, its G20 peers can hardly complain now that it has. That is not to say there won’t be lots of words on the issue though.

The Wall Street Journal has a piece saying the G7 – or at least its European and U.S. constituents – are planning a joint message ahead of the G20 to warn against a destabilizing competitive currency devaluation race. If true, this will have a big impact on the FX market.

Trade entrails

An exercise in divination using the entrails of last week’s U.S. international trade report shows signs of a move with larger implications than just the gaping deficit that caught analysts wrong-footed: the possibility of a persistent burden on the American economy caused by Japanese and German imports, like in the 80s.

The U.S. trade deficit widened 16 percent in November to $48.7 billion, the Commerce Department said on Friday, above the $41.3 billion expected. The negative surprise prompted economists to cut hastily their U.S. gross domestic product estimates for the last quarter to a negligible rate. The stock market took a hit.

The disappointment was limited, however, as analysts attributed the bulky import bill behind the deficit increase to a resumption of merchandise flows into the U.S. after Hurricane Sandy paralyzed port activity in the East Coast the previous month. Some economists still on yuletide mode are, apparently, missing the big picture.

Japan finally takes Bernanke-san’s advice – 10 years later

This post was based on reporting by Leika Kihara in Tokyo

Japan has crossed the monetary rubicon: the government is actively intervening in the affairs of the central bank, pressuring it to more aggressively tackle a prolonged bout of deflation and economic stagnation. The Bank of Japan is expected to discuss raising its inflation target from the current 1 percent level during its next rate decision on January 21-22.

Overnight, a Japanese newspaper reported the finance ministry and the central bank were considering signing a policy accord that would set as a common goal not just achieving 2 percent inflation but also steady job growth.

Key Japanese policymakers played down the prospect of making the BOJ responsible for stable employment like the U.S. Federal Reserve, but said a 2 percent inflation target will be at the heart of a new policy accord with the central bank.

Fiscal cliff could help U.S. avoid road to Japan – but probably won’t

The “fiscal cliff” is widely seen as a massive threat looming over a fragile U.S. recovery. But with a little imagination, it is not difficult to see how the combination of expiring tax cuts and spending reductions actually presents an opportunity for tilting the budget backdrop in a pro-growth direction, even if political paralysis makes this scenario rather unlikely.

For Steve Blitz, chief economist at ITG in New York, the cliff presents a unique chance for the United States to avoid sinking deeper in the direction of Japan’s growth-challenged economy by shifting incentives away from consumption and towards investment:

If current negotiations end up simply turning the “cliff” into a 10-year slide an opportunity to help the economy regain a dynamic growth path and close the gap with pre-recession trend GDP would, in our view, be lost and raise the odds that, in the coming years, U.S. economic performance looks more like Japan’s. […]

Euro zone may struggle with its own Lost Decade

Additional Reporting by Andy Bruce and polling by Rahul Karunakar and Sumanta Dey.

As Europe’s crisis drags on, the prospect of a Japanese-style lost decade of economic malaise is becoming increasingly real, according to a new poll. Half of the bond strategists and economists surveyed by Reuters are now expecting just such an outcome.

Many market participants have dismissed the fall of two-year German bond yields below their Japanese counterparts as being merely a result of a crisis-fueled flight to quality bid. Two-year German yields are now close to zero, offering returns of only 0.02 percent. By contrast, equivalent Japanese bonds are yielding 0.11 percent.

Resolving Shirakawa’s conundrum

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The governor of the Bank of Japan, Masaaki Shirakawa, says he is confounded by the still very low level of Japanese government bond yields given the country’s elevated debt to GDP ratio of over 200 percent. Speaking on an IMF panel over the weekend, he offered a rather unintuitive explanation for the phenomenon:

It seems difficult to explain the case of Japan in light of conventional wisdom. One frequently offered explanation is that the ample domestic savings in Japan have absorbed the issuance of JGBs and the share of JGBs held by foreign investors is very small. But a more fundamental explanation is that the stability in the current bond yields reflects market participants’ expectations that fiscal soundness will be restored through structural reforms imposed in the economic and fiscal areas.

Most economists think Japanese yields are low because of continued expectations for deflation and weak economic growth. But for Shirakawa, it seems, it is public confidence in future fiscal restraint that is keeping bond yields low. Except he then contradicts this point by saying weak confidence in future fiscal reforms is also simultaneously undermining consumer spending: