We have got a more hawkish FOMC and BOE this week. For the former, policymakers raised the policy rate by +25 bps, as expected, and laid out detailed plans to unwind the balance sheet. For the latter, BOE left the Bank rate unchanged at a record low of 0.25%. Yet, the members' division on the monetary policy widened the most in 6 years with Michael Saunders and Ian McCafferty joining Kristin Forbes in support of a rate hike of +25 bps. The tug of war on interest rate differential results in higher volatility in GBPUSD. After BOE's announcement, GBPUSD erased earlier loss from an intra-day low of 1.2688 and rallied to 1.2795, before retreating again. The selloff of EURGBP widened with the pair plunging to a one-week low of 0.8721. ECB earlier this month refrained from talking about tapering and reaffirmed that it would extend QE purchases, if necessary.
ECB President Mario Draghi poured cold water onto hawks who had anticipated a more upbeat policy statement following recent improvement in macroeconomic data. However, the central bank downgraded the inflation forecasts for three years despite upward revision on GDP growth. The forward guidance was slightly less dovish with the reference "or lower" removed. Honestly, all of us understand that, at the currently exceptionally low (some are negative) interest rates, further rate cuts would offer little help to the economy. Notwithstanding expectations that the ECB would begin preparing the market over QE tapering, the central bank maintained the easing bias, reiterating the commitment to accelerate its monthly asset purchases if necessary. The single currency remains under pressure after dropping to a one-week low against the US dollar.
The market was disappointed over the FOMC minutes for the May meeting. While the minutes should be considered as a confirmation of a rate hike in June, it raised the uncertainty over the future rate hike path. The members appeared divided over the inflation outlook. While one camp was concerned over the impact of falling unemployment on inflation, another camp remained focused on the downside risk to inflation. Meanwhile, it is getting more likely that the balance sheet reduction might begin 'this year'.
Bank of Canada left the policy rate unchanged at 0.5% in May. Canadian dollar rallied to a 1-month higher against the US dollar after the announcement. Although the decision had been widely anticipated, traders were thrilled as policymakers acknowledged the strength in both global and domestic growth developments. The central bank also noted its expectations of 'very strong growth in the first quarter'. Yet, the abovementioned hawkishness was offset by concerns over subdued wage and price growth, leaving the overall statement neutral.
The RBA minutes for the May meeting contained little news but reiterated policymakers' the importance of the property market and the labor market conditions in its policy decision. The stance to leave the monetary policy unchanged was obviously due to the perceived uncertain outlook in these two areas. As noted in the concluding statement in the minutes, 'the board continued to judge that developments in the labour and housing markets warranted careful monitoring'.
BOE left the Bank rate unchanged at 0.25% and the QE program at 435B pound. While this had been widely anticipated, BOE's downgrade of GDP growth outlook was disappointing. Policymakers also raised its inflation forecast for this year, warning that rising inflation begins to hurt consumers, but lowered the forecasts for 2018 and 2019. Expectations of a "smooth" Brexit led members to believe that interest rate may need to go up around the time the UK leaves the EU in 2019.
RBNZ left the OCR unchanged at 1.75% in May. Policymakers shrugged off the recent NZD depreciation and the rise in inflation, indicating that the monetary policy would likely stay unchanged for the rest of the year and probably until 2020 before tightening. The market was disappointed by the lack of hawkish comments and the unchanged forward guidance. Down -1.85, NZDUSD slumped to an 11-month low of 0.6816 after the announcement.
As widely anticipated, the FOMC left the target range for the Fed funds rate unchanged at between 0.75- 1%. Although the accompanying statement was largely unchanged from the previous month, the implications were important in light of the slowdown in the first quarter. While acknowledging the recent weakness in growth and inflation, policymakers attributed it to 'transitory effects'. The downplaying of 1Q17's disappointments underpinned the Fed's determination to carry on its normalization plan. The FOMC maintained its economic outlook and the gradual rate-hike approach. We continue to expect two more rate hikes this year with one coming in June.
As widely anticipated, RBA left its cash rate, for an 8th meeting, at 1.5% in April. While headline CPI has more or less reached the central bank's target level, the core reading has remained subdued. Policymakers have decided to take more time to gauge the inflation outlook before action. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate has remained elevated while excess capacity in the job market has rendered wage growth weak. The RBA reiterated its rhetoric on the housing market, suggesting conditions 'continue to vary considerably around the country'. Policymakers would be cautious over adopting another rate cut as previous reductions have caused a surge in housing produces and rebound in investment related credit growth. A rate hike is equally unlikely as Australian dollar has remained at historically high levels.
ECB left the monetary policy and the QE program unchanged in April. That is, the main refi rate, marginal lending rate and the depo rate stayed unchanged at 0%, 0.25% and -0.40%, respectively. Meanwhile, the asset purchase program would be continued at the pace of 60B euro per month from this month, through to the end of December 2017, or beyond, if necessary.
RBA minutes for the April meeting came in less upbeat than the March one, underpinning concerns over developments in Australia's labor and housing market. Policymakers concluded by noting that "developments in the labour and housing markets warranted careful monitoring over coming months". Note, however, that the meeting was held ahead of the release of the March employment report which showed that full-time payrolls rose the most in nearly 30 years. Aussie slumped after the minutes to a 3-day low 0.552.
BOC appeared more confident over the economic growth outlook, although it maintained the policy rate unchanged at 0.5% in April. Policymakers upgraded the GDP growth forecast for this year amidst strong housing market activities in the first quarter, but revised lower the figure for 2018. It also revised mildly higher the inflation outlook, though. The central bank cautioned over the uncertainty of trade relations with the US and stressed that material slack remained in Canada. On the monetary policy, Governor Stephen Poloz described the stance as 'decidedly neutral' as the members weighed the improved economic developments against the uncertain trade policy. We expect the policy rate to stay unchanged at 0.5% for the rest of the year. The loonie strengthened around than +0.5% Wednesday as Canadian economic outlook improved. Yet, the magnitude of the gain was mainly due to USD's weakness as US President Donald Trump complained that the greenback is too strong and reiterated his preference of low interest rate policy.
The FOMC members had quite extensive discussions on the balance sheet policies, the minutes revealed. US Treasury yields declined as the market interpreted Fed's phasing out of the reinvestment policy might be a de facto tightening measure, reducing the urgency to hike interest rates. We expect the Fed might begin balance reduction in as soon as December 2017. The minutes also unveiled that the rationale behind the March rate hike was the solid economic growth developments. The members acknowledged that the labor market strengthened further in January and February and that real GDP was continuing to expand in the first quarter. The moderation in growth from the fourth quarter was mainly driven by 'transitory factors'.
EURCHF recovered after declining over the past three weeks. Political uncertainty and diminished expectations of ECB's QE tapering has pressured the single currency and raised demand for safe-haven assets. Despite the selloff to as low as 1.0629 in February, EURCHF had then rebounded to a 3-month high of 1.0825 in mid-March, before settling at 1.068 at end-1Q17. This came in line with over forecast of 1.07 for the first quarter. Movement of USDCHF was, however, more volatile than we had anticipated. The currency pair indeed broke below 1, plunging to a 4.5-month low of 0.9812 on March 27 before returning to parity on March 31. We attribute the sharper-than-expected weakness in US dollar over the past quarter to the inability of Trump's administration. Indeed, the market has turned less optimistic over the president's pro-growth policy, after the withdrawal of the healthcare bill. However, the price movements in the first quarter do not alter our view that SNB has turned more tolerable to franc's appreciation, although FX intervention would continue should euro's selloff accelerate.
RBA left the cash rate unchanged at 1.5% in April, continuing to struggle between soaring property prices and subdued inflation. Policymakers appeared more optimistic over the global economic outlook than the domestic one. The central bank remained concerned over the rising property prices and warned of the situation that household borrowing growth was outpacing growth in income. We expect RBA to leave its monetary stance unchanged throughout the year.
Talks of ECB's tapering have been looming of late, thanks to Eurozone's improving economic developments, especially in Germany, adverse effects of negative deposit rates on financial institutions, bigger-than-expected targeted longer-term refinancing operations (TLTROSs) take-up last week, as well as the asset buying program's ongoing deviation from its capital key. Bundesbank president Jens Weidmann has been vocal about less expansionary policy and a review to the forward guidance, while other members of the Governor Council reiterated the need to maintain accommodative measures to boost inflation.
As widely anticipated, RBNZ left the OCR unchanged at 1.75% and maintained the neutral bias in the monetary policy stance. Domestic economic developments remained upbeat with rising inflation and positive growth outlook. Policymakers attributed weaker-than-expected 4Q17 GDP to temporary factors. The central bank acknowledged the recent depreciation in trade-weighted exchange rate. Yet, it reiterated that a weaker kiwi would be needed for more balanced growth. RBNZ warned that geopolitical uncertainty remained the biggest challenge in the global economic development. We expect RBNZ would stand on the sideline throughout the year.
At the RBA minutes for the March meeting, policymakers raised concerns over the increasing levels of household debts which would be exacerbated by rising unemployment and falling consumption. The members also noted there had been a "buildup of risks associated with the housing market". While the central bank has been paying close attention to the housing market, including prices, supply, rents, debts and supervisory markets, the reference of "a buildup of risks" was non-existent in the March meeting statement and the February minutes.
To our, and the market's, surprise, BOE's Kristin Forbes voted in favor of a 25 bps rate hike in March. While this had not altered the decision of keeping the Bank rate unchanged at 0.25%, the overall message sent to the public has now become more hawkish. The members voted unanimously to leave the government bond purchases at 435B pound and corporate bond purchases at up to 10B pound. Adding to the rising speculations of tightening is the minutes, which suggested that some of those who voted for unchanged policy believed 'it would take relatively little further upside news on the prospects for activity or inflation for them to consider that a more immediate reduction in policy support might be warranted'. GBPUSD jumped to a 2-week high of 1.2376 after the announcement, before settling at 1.2358, up +0.55%.
As widely anticipated, SNB left the sight deposit rate unchanged at -0.75%. The target range for the three-month Libor stayed at between -1.25% and -0.25%. Reiterating the excessive strength in Swiss franc, the central bank pledged that it would "remain active in the foreign exchange market as necessary, while taking the overall currency situation into consideration. Policymakers acknowledged ongoing improvements in the global economy but noted that it is "is still subject to considerable risks", among which the key is political uncertainty with "respect to the future course of economic policy in the US, upcoming elections in Europe, and the complex exit negotiations between the UK and the EU".
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