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Holding onto Hikes - Monthly Roundtable

FICC Podcasts 02 août 2022
FICC Podcasts 02 août 2022


Disponible en anglais seulement

Margaret Kerins here with Ian Lyngen, Ben Reitzes, Greg Anderson, Stephen Gallo, Dan Krieter, Dan Belton and Ben Jeffery from BMO Capital Markets’ FICC Macro Strategy team to bring their debate on heightened geopolitical risks and fears over a global growth slowdown in the backdrop of a Fed that is solidly committed to fighting inflation at all costs and how this impacts our outlook for US and Canadian Rates, IG credit, and foreign exchange.


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About Macro Horizons
BMO's Fixed Income, Currencies, and Commodities (FICC) Macro Strategy group led by Margaret Kerins and other special guests provide weekly and monthly updates on the FICC markets through three Macro Horizons channels; US Rates - The Week Ahead, Monthly Roundtable and High Quality Credit Spreads.

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Margaret Kerins:

This is Macro Horizons, monthly episode 43, Holding Onto Hikes, presented by BMO Capital Markets. I'm your host Margaret Kerins here with Ian Lyngen, Ben Reitzes, Greg Anderson, Steven Gallo, Dan Krieter, Dan Belton, and Ben Jeffrey from our FICC macro strategy team to bring you our debate about the heightened geopolitical risks and fears over a global growth slowdown in the backdrop of a Fed that is solidly committed to fighting inflation at all costs and how this impacts our outlook for US and Canadian rates, IG credit, and foreign exchange.

Margaret Kerins:

Each month members from BMO's FICC macro strategy team join me for a round table focusing on relevant and timely topics that impact our markets. Please feel free to reach out on Bloomberg or email me at margaret.kerins@bmo.com with questions, comments, or topics you would like to hear more about on future episodes. We value your input and appreciate your ideas and suggestions. Thanks for joining us.

Margaret Kerins:

The current market narrative now includes heightened geopolitical risks in addition to global economic growth concerns. This narrative brought 10-year yields as low as 2.51 on Monday, resulting in a deep inversion in 2s/10s, which now stands at negative 34 basis points. The swift rally in tens is almost a hundred basis points lower than the recent highs achieved in mid-June. While the flight to quality makes sense in the context of rising tensions between the US and China, the ramifications for inflation emanating from any trade disruptions could certainly make the Fed's job more difficult. Despite this, the Fed Funds Futures market continues to price well below the 3.80 projected for 2023 in the June dot plot. The market is not only pricing a lower terminal rate, but also the chance of an ease in the second quarter of 2023.

Margaret Kerins:

Now the Fed is likely to hold the terminal rate constant for longer than the market is pricing as they simply wait for the rate hikes to catch up with the economy. Furthermore, the Fed is clearly willing to sacrifice near term employment if necessary in order to anchor inflation and inflation expectations.

Margaret Kerins:

So in this backdrop of heightened geopolitical risks and a global growth slowdown, this raises a few big questions. And Ian, I'll start with you. First, we are seeing the market give back a little bit of the rally this morning, is this premature? In other words, will the bid for tens remain, even if Pelosi's visit to Taiwan is uneventful? And second, is the market mispricing the Fed's reaction function to a downturn in the economy?

Ian Lyngen:

Well, Margaret, I think that those two questions are very interconnected. First, the Fed is attempting to regain if not retain decades of hard-won credibility as an inflation fighter. So to some extent that implies that they will by necessity need to be more hawkish in the face of an economic downturn than they have been previously. It's for that reason that I think that there's still downside risk for 10 year yields from here specifically if 2.50 is breached in a material way, I could see 2.25 and even as low as an opening gap at 2.14 to 2.15 being challenged between now and the September FOMC meeting. That said, there is a lot of economic data including two inflation reports, as well as several updates on the overall labor market conditions. The market will be watching the initial jobless claims as well as non-farm payrolls for any evidence that the prior removal of monetary policy accommodation has started to have an impact on the real economy.

Ben Reitzes:

And Margaret, just to touch on something that you mentioned earlier, which is that we're actually seeing a meaningful probability of rate cuts in the early part of next year. This means that in the event we see still solid labor market data via both jobless claims and NFP this week, but also the CPI reads that we'll get before the September meeting. That means that should we hear more Fed rhetoric similar to what we heard from Mary Daly on Tuesday, that the Fed is not close to accomplishing their goals and containing inflation, that means that there's still room for the front end of the market to cheapen in response to the Fed pushing back against the rate cut narrative, which with the background of two back to back quarters of real GDP, rising geopolitical tensions, and all the other risks that are increasingly making their way into the market, that's going to asymmetrically weigh on 10- and 30-year yields. Meanwhile, the front end is going to underperform.

Ben Reitzes:

So even with 2s/10s below negative 30 basis points, a commitment by the Fed to continue normalizing policy still means we could get even deeper into inverted territory. Negative 40, negative 50 basis points, maybe even beyond that is certainly on the table.

Ben Reitzes:

Ian, at what point do you think the Fed will actually back off, given all the headwinds that Ben already mentioned? It's hard to believe that the outlook for the US economy is at all positive. What is it going to take for the Fed to actually back off if you don't think that's coming in the near term?

Ian Lyngen:

So I think that what the Fed is doing is they're trying to manage forward expectations for rate cuts. And so while the Fed is not going to bring Fed funds to 4%, they do want to hike at both the September and November meeting. Maybe ultimately they get another hundred basis points off, maybe it's only 75 in aggregate. That remains to be seen and will be a function of the economic data. But for the moment at least, in the very near term, the Fed does want to push back against the inversion of Fed Funds Futures in 2023.

Ian Lyngen:

In practical terms, what does it take to make the Fed blink? Well, they've already told us that they want the unemployment rate above 4%. But what they don't want is they don't want the trajectory of the increase in the unemployment rate to be 25, 30 basis points at every employment report. So if we find ourselves at the end of the summer and we have seen several significant increases in the unemployment rate, I think that's when the Fed starts to get nervous. Remember, it's very easy for the Fed to trigger an increase in the unemployment rate, it's much harder for them to manage that into a soft landing. And we won't know whether or not the Fed's abandoned the prospects for a soft landing until we're at the end of this year, if not the beginning of next.

Ben Reitzes:

And also Ben, as we think about how the Fed will try to make that pivot in backing off their hawkishness, I would argue that during 2023, even by shifting to an on hold stance and not necessarily continuing to raise rates in 2023, the Fed will still be delivering a tightening impulse into financial conditions. And that will be a function of that pushback against the market pricing rate cuts because if the market's pricing rate cuts and Powell doesn't ultimately give in to that market pricing, that's going to drag front end yields higher, tighten financial conditions. And it's that feedback loop, to Ian's point about the unemployment rate, that they like to keep orderly. And as we've seen historically, tightening financial conditions has impacts on the real economy, yes, but also liquidity conditions and valuations in other markets, as we've already started to see in stocks and credit.

Margaret Kerins:

So Ben, you mentioned the likelihood of a Fed on hold for an extended timeframe, but Ian, you also mentioned that if the unemployment rate got high enough that they would react to that. And I think that it would have to be high enough for them to believe that there would have to be ramifications from the higher unemployment rate on inflation and their outlook for inflation before they would actually react to the higher unemployment levels.

Ian Lyngen:

I'd also add that when we say reacting to the higher unemployment level, the first response is going to be to stop hiking. And I think that part of that groundwork is already being communicated from the Fed. We did have a Fed who brought monetary policy to neutral and has signaled that from here, things will be data dependent, which allows for a bit more flexibility. So while before the last FOMC meeting, we might have assumed we were getting 75 in September as well, now it's reasonable to say that 75 or 50 is probably an even split and it will ultimately be data dependent. So to some extent, the Fed has already begun to react. If that makes sense.

Margaret Kerins:

Yeah. That's a very good point, Ian. And Ben, you mentioned the recent Fed speak, trying to talk the market off of pricing in the possibility of a cut. Now we've seen a little bit of a backup in the Fed Funds Futures market this morning, but we're still pricing well below the terminal rate. So the Fed really hasn't been successful in this recent endeavor. How are we to interpret that?

Ben Jeffery:

That's a great point, Margaret. And I think unfortunately for the argument of an orderly tightening of financial conditions, it means that there's still greater capacity for the FCI to tighten and volatility and risk assets to pick up. Because as we move further through summer and get toward the fourth quarter with Fed messaging starting to take clearer shape around Q1, in the event that we don't see any groundwork laid for rate cuts, as we're assuming will be the case, that will mechanically reprice the Fed Funds Futures market toward higher implied rates with everything that means for short term funding costs across the financial and corporate sectors.

Margaret Kerins:

Even if the Fed continues to jawbone the market off of pricing in cuts, the market is likely to continue to price some probability. Another factor at play could be recency bias. We're always fighting yesterday's war, regulating to the last crisis and comparing the factors that cause the crisis then to how those same factors look now. And we know that cracks in the system appear when the Fed takes away the punch bowl. And it's usually not the same thing that breaks.

Dan Krieter:

Yeah, Margaret, that's a great point. And I actually think that's potentially the biggest risk facing the market here is that all assumptions for a potential recession in the next year or so have been that we'd have a garden variety, less severe market slow down. And the reason for that, like you said, is because we've compared to previous recessions. We look at things like household debt, which is at some of the lowest levels in history. And even corporate leverage is in the context of where it was heading into the pandemic. So from a financial stability standpoint, it looks like we're in pretty strong shape heading into the next potential recession. But I see two potential problems with that comparison.

Dan Krieter:

The first one being just simply the amount of accommodation we've had both from fiscal and monetary authorities in the past couple years. It's very possible that there is some hidden leverage or cracks in the system that we don't currently see that could come to the surface as the Fed takes with the punch bowl. The second of course being that we're comparing to previous recessions that required a massive response from the Fed. Who's to say how much corporate leverage would've slowed the economy in the 2019, 2020 environment had the pandemic not descended and caused the Fed to come into the market with extraordinary liquidity. So for me, the big risk is right now we're pricing in a garden variety recession that we might not get and we're assuming a Fed response like we've had in similar recessions that we probably won't get.

Margaret Kerins:

Dan, I think you raised an interesting point there, and that's with regard to the Fed's potential response to the next downturn. It seems like QE might not be on the table next time, just given the size of the balance sheet. And this is a topic that has come up quite frequently. And the question is really does the Fed have to end QT if they are cutting rates? And I think the answer really depends on why they're cutting rates. If they were simply tweaking rates to neutral, no, I don't think they would have to end QT. But if they were embarking on a recession fighting easing cycle, they would probably have to stop the rundown. Why? I think just as it did not make sense for the Fed to tighten while purchasing assets, it doesn't make sense for the Fed to ease beyond neutral while running assets down because they counteract.

Greg Anderson:

Margaret, that's an interesting point. As a general rule, the Fed has laid out that they don't want to present the market with these types of contradictions. However, if they're faced with a situation where there still is a deep inversion of not 2s/10s but let's say you've got 5- and 10-year borrowing rates below the Fed Funds rate. The Fed may want to be cutting its overnight rate while at the same time, trying to raise rates at the back end to get rid of that inversion and any stress that it might cause to community banks.

Margaret Kerins:

That type of action would have obvious ramifications for the mortgage market where rates are already much higher than they had been. And so I think that they would have to be sensitive to that as well. Sticking with the balance sheet topic, another frequent theme is will the Fed increase the pace of QT by removing the caps, lifting the caps, selling mortgage-backed securities in order to get the balance sheet down quicker, perhaps before they might have to start easing? And I think there are a few ways to think about this. The first is what does an increase in the caps achieve? The caps are not actually binding for notes and bonds in 14 of the next 24 months. So an increase in the caps would actually allow the Fed to run down bill holdings much faster. I could see this happening, I just don't think it's today's story. They are only two months into what is likely to be perhaps a two to two and a half year process.

Margaret Kerins:

Another way to look at the question is to review the purpose of the caps, and the caps really smooth out the monthly runoff, which smooths out the impact of the runoff on the economy. And it's highly uncertain how the runoff impacts the economy. So for example, monthly SOMA maturities range from 60 billion to 130 billion over the next 12 months, assuming any shortfall under the cap is filled with bills. Therefore, uncapped runoff would be very choppy and could result in a less predictable impact on the economy.

Margaret Kerins:

The same is true for mortgage-backed securities, where a rally in rates could result in large unpredictable payments that are refinanced into the private markets, which could widen MBS spreads and transmit into the housing market, which of course is already slowing. In terms of possible asset sales in the future, it's not part of the Fed's current plan, but they've left that door open by saying that they can adjust any part of the plan's details in light of economic and financial developments. I don't see this happening today, but Greg, I think your point is valid if they wanted to try to control the curve, but they're really not sure how that works. And so much of it also depends on how treasury will refinance this runoff, and we are expecting an increasing portion of the runoff to be refinanced into the bill market.

Dan Krieter:

Yeah, Margaret, you mentioned the impact of QT on treasury supply. And one important factor that we're tracking in the high grade space is the extent to which QT and the corresponding increase in treasury supply potentially crowds out private market borrowers from being able to access capital market liquidity. Looking at credit spreads this year, we've seen a significant increase in spreads year to date, and a big reason for that has been market technicals and lack of demand for the primary market. I think obviously balance sheet normalization is a big part of that. We can see that in just looking at flows among mutual funds and hedge funds. We have 18 consecutive weeks of outflows from high grade mutual funds. That's the longest streak on record. And the corresponding decrease in demand for corporate paper there has spread to other market participants.

Dan Krieter:

Foreign buyers who are the biggest buyer of corporate paper in the IG market. We've seen hedging costs increase significantly there and their purchasing has dropped. Even now to pension funds where we've seen now fully funded status for the first time since the financial crisis. The demand for fixed income that comes from that rotation as they reach fully funded status that has likely fallen off as well. So we've seen demand for corporate paper drop this year alongside QT, partly because of QT. And when you look at that through the lens of supply, it's not surprising to see spreads moving higher as financial conditions tighten.

Margaret Kerins:

And Dan, it's interesting because the Fed is still very early in their QT process. And of course we will have the caps stepping up in September, which will result in even more runoff. Treasury did announce yesterday that they will borrow an additional 844 billion through year end. And that's actually 24% higher than the borrowing needs in the first half. So this dynamic might continue to persist.

Dan Belton:

Yeah. And Margaret, I think the primary impact of QT as we see this persistent decrease in the Fed's balance sheet is that, back to Dan's point earlier, our base case is not for some acute market stress like we saw in 2008 and 2020. But rather even if we do see a garden variety recession, we're expecting the impact of QE in the absence of Fed accommodation in this cycle to really put persistent, upward pressure on credit spreads into the end of the year and perhaps beyond, depending on the Fed's reaction function. So, the long-term average of credit spreads is around the 130 to 140 basis point range. We're expecting spreads to trade around 150 to 175 basis points for most of the rest of this year. And that's even if we avoid a severe market stress event. And even in a garden variety recession, we could see spreads test the 200 basis point level, which we've really only seen a couple times since the financial crisis.

Stephen Gallo:

Yeah. You know what, Ben, following on from your comments about spreads and also one of the resounding themes I'm hearing throughout the recording so far is that whilst we can clearly see the US economy is slowing and we may even call what the Fed executed last week as a mini pivot, there definitely doesn't seem to be a consensus within the strategy team and in markets that the Fed will be easing or providing accommodation quickly. And I think when you look across the Atlantic into economies and financial systems that are a lot more fragile than the ones that you're used to in North America, this is a particularly big problem. Now I've been watching term premia and longer term yields and all sorts of spreads remain relatively tame. And I think one of the reasons for that is because bond markets in Europe are pricing in the risk of a recession. Although I'm confused as to who actually is buying the bonds.

Stephen Gallo:

But regardless of that, I think the term premia also being led lower by the move we've been seeing that you rightly called, Ian, in US treasuries. Now my opinion on that is given the backdrop of stagflation, given the risk still of an even more protracted war, the energy security situation, not knowing what the Putin regime's next moves are going to be, political risk in Italy, recession on top of that, more pressure on governments to provide support to businesses and households as they make it through this very difficult time, lower risk premia does not seem like the answer to me.

Stephen Gallo:

If I'm a non-resident investor looking at Europe, I want to see risk premium at justifiable levels so that I can get more involved. Now, if it can't get reflected in credit spreads and it can't get reflected in bond yields, well to a degree, the currency has got to reflect it.

Stephen Gallo:

And so I think the main point that I would now hone here when I'm talking about the major European currencies, Euro/dollar in particular, is that even if the dollar has peaked for the cycle, I think Greg and I are still debating that one way or another. There's a case that it has, it may not have. But even if it has peaked for the cycle, the Euro does not appear like it's ready to be the primary driver of sustained dollar weakness yet, because of all those factors that I mentioned. Now, that's a lot of negative stuff. And I have been in recent days with client conversations and so on talking about, okay, so what are the positive risks? Well, maybe six to nine months down the road, there is a possibility that NATO sits down at the table with Putin and we get some type of a cessation of hostilities.

Stephen Gallo:

That would be a massive market positive risk, a massively positive Euro risk. But in the near term, I just don't think that's likely, and I think what we have to get through first is the energy security issue. How is that going to play out over the course of autumn and winter? Are we going to see another energy price spike related to weather in the North America region? And also we've got drought conditions in large parts of Europe, UK included. I can't see the price of food falling anytime soon.

Stephen Gallo:

And I hate to say it, because it's a bit crude, but these central banks, many of them in Europe are they're a bit damned if they don't and damned if they do when it comes to monetary tightening.

Greg Anderson:

So in talking about the broad dollar, I want to come back to a couple of themes that have already been mentioned. First being the reversal lower in the price of oil over the last six weeks or so. We've had a move from 120 in mid-June down to, we'll call it $94 a barrel today. And that move takes a lot of stress off of importer currencies. And foremost among them is the yen.

Greg Anderson:

Second thing that I want to come back to this, call it 50 basis points of rate cuts that are priced in for the Fed in 2023. What are those? Is that the market pricing in a benign oil scenario where inflation just dissipates gradually through 2023 and the Fed’s therefore are able to cut rates as are other central banks. We achieve the soft landing.

Greg Anderson:

If that's what it is, then it is probably US dollar negative because it's a goldilocks soft landing type environment that is good for emerging market currencies, and I would argue for G10 currencies that are 15 to 20% below equilibrium, like yen and Euro are. But if that 50 basis points of rate cuts that's priced in, it's actually something like a 10 to 20% probability of a hard landing and the Fed cutting to zero next year, well, that's an entirely different thing and it should be dollar positive.

Greg Anderson:

So look, the first half of July, the market treated it that way. That, "Oh, we've got a hard landing coming by dollars." And then we got a switch for the second half of July and the 4% rallying the first half of July in the broad US dollar index, was almost taken away by a 3% decline since July 14th.

Greg Anderson:

I admit that I'm struggling to know what to make of it. I would probably be more in the camp that either we have the Fed staying on hold through all of 2023, or we have the hard landing, but this 50 basis points dribble lower. I think that's not what I would call my core scenario. So I still like the US dollar higher here. In the pair that has seen the most volatility by far in this whipsaw over the last four or five weeks is dollar/yen and at a 131 handle. Yeah, I think it is a buy at this juncture. But with all this volatility in dollar/yen, maybe one of the other remarkable features of the foreign exchange market in the past few weeks is the complete lack of volatility in dollar/Canada, despite the Bank of Canada, surprising with a hundred basis point rate hike and with oil backing off, we've had a really calm market between 1.28 and 1.30 in that pair.

Ben Reitzes:

Well, it's definitely been calm on the FX side, but rates markets have been far more volatile in Canada, moving similar to the US. The curve has flattened violently, 2s/10s, the flattest this morning since 1990. And again, that's despite the Bank of Canada really not backing off one iota yet. And I think at this point, the question for Canada is will the bank make a similar type of shift in rhetoric that we saw from the Fed and whether growth concerns are going to loom a little bit larger moving forward.

Ben Reitzes:

At the prior meeting that the Bank of Canada said that they want to move rates to neutral as quickly as possible and slightly above that level. So somewhere probably between three and three and a half percent, that puts anything from 50 to a hundred basis points on the table for the next meeting and with the Bank of Canada effectively on vacation in August, as they tend to be, unless they surprise us with some kind of speech.

Ben Reitzes:

We are left entirely to the data for the next few weeks to determine which way the bank will go in early September. And so, we'll see which way the numbers go. We'll be watching the jobs numbers very closely. Inflation will almost certainly pull back with lower energy prices, but it still remains way, way above target. And at this point, I think it's very challenging to read where the bank's going to go and whether they'll make a similar move to the Fed. But pricing is similar in Canada and the US. We also have some rate cuts priced into next year, which I find very hard to believe, especially in the first half of next year, given current inflation dynamics and just the extremely low likelihood will be anywhere near target by the middle of next year. So flatter curve still ahead. And I'm sure that the Canadian market will largely mirror where the US goes.

Margaret Kerins:

So to paraphrase Chairman Powell, the only thing that is certain is uncertainty. So we have covered a lot of territory and let's conclude with a rapid fire round table, starting with Ian.

Ian Lyngen:

So we're expecting the balance of the summer to be net constructive for the treasury market, pushing further with the curve inversion, as the Fed attempts to talk back the amount of rate cuts that are priced in for 2023. But at the end of the day, as Chair Powell said, we are squarely in a data dependent mode and monetary policy will be set accordingly.

Margaret Kerins:

Ben.

Ben Jeffery:

And even though the Fed may not continue actively hiking rates in 2023, given what we're seeing in terms of market pricing, even Powell just staying committed to rates at terminal and restrictive territory will still deliver a tightening impulse to the overall economy and financial conditions, which introduces the risk of ongoing volatility across asset classes: rates, stocks, and credit included.

Margaret Kerins:

Dan Krieter.

Dan Krieter:

We're not going to see significant sustainable narrowing in credit spreads until we see that a soft landing is the likely outcome here. So we've gotten some narrowing credit spread in the past couple weeks. I prefer to view that as a fade while we wait for more economic data in the months ahead.

Margaret Kerins:

Dan Belton.

Dan Belton:

Look for volatility in credit spreads to remain elevated alongside macro uncertainty and a questionable at best technical landscape. This environment will provide some short term tactical opportunities, but the long term trend continues to point to wider credit spreads at least into year end.

Margaret Kerins:

Ben Reitzes.

Ben Reitzes:

Watch the data. That's what's going to determine what the Bank of Canada does next and which way the yield curve moves.

Margaret Kerins:

Greg Anderson.

Greg Anderson:

Buy dollar/yen here, looking for a rebound back up to 136 on a one to two month horizon.

Margaret Kerins:

Stephen Gallo.

Stephen Gallo:

So our preferred cross trade right now in Europe is short Euro, long Norway.

Margaret Kerins:

Okay. And that's a wrap. Thank you to all of our BMO experts. And thank you for listening. This concludes Macro Horizons, monthly episode 43, Holding Onto Hikes. As always, please reach out to us with feedback and any ideas on topics you'd like us to tackle. Thanks for listening to Macro Horizons. Please visit us at bmocm.com/macro horizons. We'd like to hear what you thought of today's episode. You can send us an email at Margaret.kerins@bmo.com. You can listen to the show and subscribe on Apple podcasts or your favorite podcast provider. And we'd appreciate it if you could take a moment to leave us a rating and a review. This show and resources are supported by our team here at BMO, including the FICC macro strategy group and BMO's marketing team. This show is produced and edited by Puddle Creative.

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Margaret Kerins, CFA Chef - Stratégie macroéconomique, Titres à revenu fixe
Ian Lyngen, CFA Directeur général et chef, Stratégie de taux des titres en dollars US
Benjamin Reitzes Directeur général, spécialiste en stratégie – taux canadiens et macroéconomie
Greg Anderson Chef mondial, Stratégie de change
Stephen Gallo Chef de la stratégie de change pour l’Europe
Dan Krieter, CFA Directeur, Stratégie sur titres à revenu fixe
Dan Belton Vice-président - Stratégie sur titres à revenu fixe, Ph. D.
Ben Jeffery Spécialiste en stratégie, taux américains, titres à revenu fixe

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