All eyes on FOMC meeting
FOMC day finally arrives with markets already being buffeted by a variety of inputs. Although I expect the FOMC to not give too much away on the tapering front, the best we can expect I believe is a signal that they will make a firm decision on whether to start at the November meeting, we could in for a surprise on the latest dot plot. The dot plot, which charts FOMC members’ timelines for rate hikes or cuts could see more members moving hiking expectations into 2022. We may not get a taper tantrum lite from tapering comments, but we could from a more hawkish dot plot. I’ve long given up hope that US bond yields will react materially, but we could see a further extension to the US dollar rally and equities and commodities probably won’t have a good day at the office.
It is a busy day for central banks anyway with the Bank of Japan announcing its latest policy decision this morning. Like Indonesia yesterday, I expect no change from the BOJ, with a new prime minister to be chosen next week and an election to hold in the next couple of months. They may downgrade growth expectations and hint that more stimulus is ready should the economy slow, which should be supportive of Japan equities. Paraguay sneaked in a 0.50% rate hike this morning Asia time, and Brazil this evening, after the FOMC looks set to hike rates by another 1.0%. With Russia also on a hiking path, parts of the EM world could become attractive carry propositions if Mr Powell keeps the dovish hat firmly on. Turkey should be hiking, but that is a quick path to unemployment if you are the central bank governor.
Mainland China returns to work today although Hong Kong markets are on holiday in a game of tag. China has left its one and five-year Loan Prime Rates unchanged at 3.85% and 4.65% respectively as expected. Another RRR cut, probably early in Q4, is my favoured easing path for the PBOC. With one eye on the Evergrande saga, which has captured the world’s attention, the PBOC has injected a chunky liquidity injection today of CNY 120 billion via the 7 and 14-day repos. Whether that is enough to soothe frayed nerves in China remains to be seen.
What has soothed nerves is Reuters reporting that Evergrande’s Hengda Real Estate unit will make coupon payments on onshore bonds that was due tomorrow. That saw an immediate jump in the risk-correlated Australian and New Zealand dollars, and some buying coming into early Asian equity markets. However, the Evergrande story will keep on giving with the Financial Times reporting yesterday that Evergrande issued wealth management products sold to Chinese retail investors were used to plug financial holes in various subsidiaries. Concerns also swirl around its stake in a regional Chinese bank and whether it has been borrowing from itself effectively. The coupon payment story is likely only a temporary reprieve with no signals from the Chinese government over what steps, if any, it will take to assist an orderly wind down or restructuring.
US markets are contending with their own challenges in addition to the FOMC. The House of Representatives passed a vote to extend the US debt ceiling until after next year’s mid-term elections and will vote on a full bill today. It will likely be dead on arrival in the US Senate though, with Mitch McConnell as much as saying so, forcing the process into reconciliation to pass. The tiresome gamesmanship over the debt ceiling from both sides should be another reason for the Fed to stay on the cautious side of things this evening.
Natural gas prices continue to make headlines with European gas prices having climbed by over 400%. Most of the noise is around the 10-20% of gas that producers keep for the spot market and here it seems Asia is winning the bidding war. Gazprom is reluctant to increase export volumes to Europe above contracted amounts, meaning no spot gas. Bemusingly, signals from Russia suggest that a quick approval and certification of the new NordStream2 pipeline could result in an immediate increase. All Europe and Asia, to a lesser extent, can do, is hope for a mild winter at this stage. Europe is paying the price for its naivety in tying energy security to Russia in the hope that it would be a reliable partner. That’s like me turning structurally bullish on cryptocurrencies and starting to call them an investable versus tradeable asset class.
For today, Evergrande has knocked the FOMC meeting into second place in the attention of Asian investors. I expect regional markets to be buffeted by headlines emerging from that situation and the price action after the coupon payment news suggests dip buyers hungrily await in everything if even tenuous positive news arrives.