Fed on tap - APAC brief 20 Dec
Fed on tap: It’s a commentary written on the fly this morning, as developments out of this morning’s US Federal Reserve meeting are being digested by markets. The Fed has hiked rates just as they were expected to do, with market participants now trawling through the fine print in the Fed’s commentary. We were expecting a “dovish hike”; what we got looks like a “less-dovish than-expected-hike”. The dot plots were revised as presumed: the Fed has told the markets that it expects interest rates to be lifted twice in 2019, rather than the three-times implied in the September dot-plots. It also downgraded its growth expectations and hinted unemployment is likely to pick up in the medium term. Overall, though, at first glance this looks like a Fed reasonably content with their policy position, as well as the position of the US economy.
First responders: Price action in markets have been interesting. The message being delivered by the Fed is somewhat curious. Initial judgements are that they’ve struck quite an effective tone, albeit one that was probably different to that which was implied in market pricing prior to the event. US stocks are paring their gains for the day; volume has returned to Wall Street, after being below its average for most of the session last night. The NASDAQ is in the red presently: momentum stocks (read: information technology firms) are being hurt by the “less-dovish” Fed. Investors don’t want to buy into growth, it would seem. The intraday trend is pointing to a down day for Wall Street, though naturally that could turn in the next hour-and-a-half.
Rates markets: The VIX is down currently, which is a good early indicator that markets are less-uncertain after the Fed’s announcement. That’s not always guaranteed and is liable to change today; one assumes policy makers would be pleased with that outcome. Interest rate markets, as the data presents itself in the Bloomberg World Interest Rate Probability data, aren’t presenting signs of adjustment yet. That indicator still implies only a modest 14 basis points of hikes into 2019 from the Fed – though it is showing a greater chance that the central bank will stop or even reverse course in 2020. Arguably, the most interesting price action has transpired in US breakeven inflation rates: the 5 Year indicator has dropped to imply future inflation of just below 1.6 per cent – well below the Fed’s target level of 2.00 per cent.
Powell Press Conference: Fed Chairperson has delivered his commentary and is taking questions from the press. Markets are reacting quite well to what he is saying but most asset classes are still swinging around a lot. The “data-dependant” line is being touted once again, suggesting a flexibility to future policy decision. The dot-plots too, it has been stated several times, is not a consensus estimate or guideline and is subject to revision. Traders ought to take comfort from that notion: if things get uglier, for whatever reason, the Fed will provide some sort of a back stop – a low-premium Powell-put, perhaps. However, a positive – a less dovish, more hawkish – tone has been delivered. Powell is waving away some of the recent financial market volatility, despite acknowledging that financial conditions are less accommodative for economic growth.
Bonds and currencies: Bond and currency markets have been the locus of activity, as one would assume. Sentiment is still shifting in response to new information, though some insights into the collective consciousness of traders can be inferred. The US Dollar is turning higher for the day, climbing toward 97 according to the US Dollar index. The greenback is performing best against risk and growth sensitive currencies like the Australian Dollar: our currency has been dumped, tumbling over 1 per cent to sit just above 0.7100, at present. Bonds are rallying across the board and all the way across the curve. US Treasuries are of course leading the drive: there is the feeling that risk aversion is taking hold now. Equities are selling-off: one criticism popping up now is the Fed is not taking financial market volatility seriously-enough.
US Treasury yields: A cursory analysis of the yield curve is presenting some interesting information, too: the yield on rate sensitive US 2 Year note has fallen by 2 points at time of writing, but the US 10 Year note has fallen by an even greater 5. The spread between those two assets has narrowed to 13 points. Traders are suggesting, as they had been at stages in the lead up to this Fed meeting, it expects the Fed to keep tightening rates, even in the face of lower inflation and growth prospects. If anything is going to spark fear and further volatility today, it’s probably going to be based on that point. An imminent-enough economic slow-down is upon us, it is being implied, however the Fed will likely stick to its strategy of restricting financial conditions by lifting interest rates.
The aftermath: The event is more-or-less over now: all the official information is out-there, and Powell has delivered his press conference. Now traders trade and speculate on what has been communicated to the market. After holding up well enough initially, US equities are being smashed and futures markets are pricing in a sell-off across both European and Asia markets. Looking at the market-map of the S&P500, it’s all a sea of red now, with just over half an hour left in trade. That index is clambering to hold onto the 2500 handle, while the Dow Jones has just registered a new year-to-date, intra-day-low. After all the formalities, market participants are behaving none-too-happy with what they have received this morning: stocks are off on volumes that have gone through the roof, credit spreads have widened, and safe-havens are being sought out.
ASX today: Though it has suffered in the global equity sell-off, the ASX200 has held-up rather well of last, at least when compared to its global peers. SPI Futures have swung heavily this morning, vacillating all in the time it takes to type a sentence in a range between 7-to-25-points. Yesterday was a soft day for Australian shares as traders positioned for this morning’s Fed; the only bright spot for the session was the announcement from APRA it was going to lift lending restrictions on investor only loans. That fact gave the real estate sector, the banks and the consumer staples space a boost. What’s in store for the day ahead is hard to pick for a trader right now: the markets are shifting so rapidly. Anything more than a flat day for Aussie shares would be surprising. IG is pricing the ASX at 5560 as of 7.45AM, with the recent intra-day low of 5551 the level to watch today.
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