Appetite in European stocks waned yesterday, yet the US counterparts recovered Wednesday losses and closed the session more than 1% higher as the latest growth data was revised slightly lower to 4.9%, real consumer spending was revised down from 3.6% to 3.1%, corporate profits from above 4 to 3.7%. Else, jobless claims came in lower than expected and the Philly Fed index printed a sharper contraction in December. All in all, the data pointed at a certain slowdown – except for the jobless claims – but the numbers looked strong in absolute terms: that’s about everything that the soft-lander camp love to hear : a slowing economy that will allow the Federal Reserve (Fed) to loosen its grip on the monetary policy, but an economy that will avoid entering recession if inflation falls and remains low near the Fed’s 2% target. As such the S&P500 closed a few points below 4500 and Nasdaq 100 a few points below an ATH.
Today’s inflation print is the Fed puzzle’s last crucial piece. If today’s PCE print comes in as soft as expected, or ideally softer-than-expected, we shall see the rally in bonds – and perhaps in stocks – extend the Santa rally. In numbers, core PCE is expected to show no change on a monthly basis. If that’s the case, the core PCE – the Fed’s favourite gauge of inflation – will fall to the Fed’s 2% target over the past 6 months, on an annualized basis. Given the strong positive trend and the market’s optimism, a sufficiently soft inflation figure should be enough to justify a fresh record for the S&P500 after the Dow Jones and Nasdaq renewed record after record over the past week. When the market is high on dovish Fed expectations, the sky is the limit.
Presently, swaps point at six 25bp cut in the US by this time next year. That’s a 150bp cut in total. It means that the US rates are expected to fall to 375/400bp range in a year time. And that leaves the 2-year bond – which currently yields near 4.35% with plenty of room to extend rally. This being said – and I can’t repeat it enough – if the US economy is set for a 150bp cut, it would also be due to something ugly that would’ve triggered that Fed reaction. A 5% growth, combined with robust consumer spending, strong profit expectations and a historically low unemployment rate don’t call for a 150bp cut.
Today’s inflation data from Japan confirmed an expected fall in inflation to 2.5% from 2.9% printed a month earlier. As such, there is no rush for the Japanese policymakers to move; low rates are sweet for growth if they don’t generate inflation. Plus, the yen appreciation should keep inflation contained in Japan and leave the Bank of Japan (BoJ) in a position to … wait until at least April to exit the negative rates… et encore. Therefore, there is a weakening case for the USDJPY to dip below the 140 level, and there is no issue with buying the Japanese stocks at 33-year high levels when the BoJ remains so supportive.
In Europe, the EURUSD bulls are waiting for the US inflation data in ambush. A sufficiently soft inflation read is expected to boost the Fed doves, back a further USD depreciation and drive the EURUSD above the 1.10 mark to the end of the year. In this configuration, gold will also remain on track for further gains above the $2000 level.
American crude is testing the top of the downtrending channel that has been building since the end of September. The $74/75 offers continue to push back the bullish attempts, while trend and momentum indicators are strong and tell that a positive breakout is still possible and could lead the price of a barrel to near 200-DMA – near $78pb.
The latest news from OPEC is not necessarily enchanting. Angola decided to leave OPEC as the country rejected the restricted production quotas that the cartel imposed on them. But note that, Angola won’t be pumping significantly more outside OPEC: once Africa’s biggest producer, the country’s production collapsed by 40% in 8 years due to an unfavourable tax environment and the absence of fresh investments, and the country pumped just above 1.1mbpd, anyway. Therefore, in absolute terms, Angola’s exit won’t change the dynamics for OPEC, but Angola’s walkout is just another reminder that the tensions are mounting at the heart of OPEC, and the cartel – which now has the lowest market share of its history – will hardly maintain an impactful position to influence the oil price if they can’t show unity.