FED, BOE, ECB, BOJ, SNB, BOC: Who Will Blink First?
Submitted by Nic Lenoir of ICAP
The recovery has been uneven around the globe. The US with heavy stimulus has returned rapidly to positive growth (whether we can sustain it is a completely different debate), Swiss real estate was never really affected by the quasi worldwide slide and GDP in Switzerland is expected to be between 1% and 1.5% for 2010, and Canada has not only returned to positive growth but it also has to consider slowing down a bubbly real estate market. Meanwhile Europe's leading rebounder Germany is not guarantied to post positive GDP for Q1, Greece is wondering whether debt refinancing and what it will take will lead to civil war, Spain's industrial output is still approximately 30% off of what it was in late 2007, and Japan is discussing extending QE. The least we can say is that the bottoming process is rather uneven based on where you live, and with rates at near 0% everywhere or almost, we look at what relative value opportunities may present themselves as central banks debate how to transition from QE to more "normalized" liquidity environment and finally towards higher rates.
The Fed has constrained itself by stressing the 4 to 6 months meaning of "extended period of time". Some in fact view it as a moral hazard because it takes away some flexibility in the Fed's ability to respond to the data should it surprise significantly to the upside. As liquidity is starting to be withdrawn the need for the language and the constraints that come with it are starting to balance each other. While we have not necessarily heard enough from the Fed to believe a change in the statement is coming up necessarily next week, should it happen the sell-off in reds and EDZ0 should be brutal. If this is not the case, I expect the Fed to be at least a lot more vocal in stressing liquidity withdrawal and give details about upcoming operations. The carry remains pretty steep (58bps rolling EDZ0 to EDH0) but policy risk to longs is starting to build up.
The BOC has historically rarely started hiking before the Fed. At the same time, the BAZ0/EDZ0 which was just under 20bps to start the year is now at 60bps. So if history repeats itself and the BOC waits for the Fed to draw first, the spread is probably a bit rich here. I am not sure whether the BOC has the luxury to wait for the Fed, but USDCAD in the lower end of the range between 1.02 and 1.03 is also certain to lead to caution as a strong CAD is not at the top of the BOC'c wishlist. So the Dec BED spread is slightly rich or at best fairly priced we feel.
The SNB has been at the center of many talks in the last few days and it is believed that in the current more risk prone environment the appreciation of the CHF against EUR and USD has been more controlled which may give Switzerland the room to maneuver it needed to consider hikes. Here again outright plays other than for June are carry-expensive and some worry that the overall poor environment in Europe will also make the SNB more hesitant. A relative value play could be to buy ESZ0/ESH1 as a spread against selling ERZ0/ERH1 as a spread. The liquidity normalization in Europe is keeping the Euribor curve relatively steep in the front-end, but at the same time hikes are completely out of the picture. Selling ERZ0/ERH1 rather than buying Euribors outright isolate the liquidity normalization risk while allowing to take a view on a stronger economic environment in Switzerland. (See ERES Z0H1 Chart)
The economic picture in Europe is so obviously bad that rates are completely out of the picture. The ECB is historically a solid year beinh the Fed anyways as the US economy enters faster in recession but also comes out of it a lot faster. However, if the carry to ERZ0 still seems attractive being north of 50bps, a lot of it stems from the expectation of liquidity normalization which would bring Eonia back in line with the 1% target rate. The fact that ERZ0/Z1 is in th mid 80s and EDZ0/Z1 above 140 is already factoring a more aggresive Fed. Still by historical standards more could easily be priced in. We looked at buying EDZ0/H1 against ERZ0/H1 and found that even tough the market could well price more, the box trades already +14bps, so it is a relatively consequent negative carry. Until policy starts physically changing, fighting carry can be a very expensive hobby, so we prefer the SNB/ECB play mentioned earlier when it comes to fading ECB hikes.
The Bank of England has a tough task ahead, but not as tough as fixing the budget gap is. England seems to have the will compared to other countries to balance the budget to avoid a refinancing crisis like what is happening in Greece (claims that the crisis is over today by the way or not only ludicrous but also moronic as there is a huge tranche of refinancing coming up in April and May, and only successful issuance will allow politicians to claim victory). As long as those issues aren't addressed, and the consequences of the austerity required on the economy are evaluated, an extension of QE could well be more likely than talks of hikes. This is why we view a relative value play between ED and short sterling as the best way to express the economic outperformance of North America over Europe. The chart shows that buying EDZ0/H1 against L Z0/H1 allows us to express the view without barely any carry, we would buy the spread around -2/-3 in order to play +10/+15. For those who prefer using options, this morning we priced that selling the EDZ0 99.50 calls to buy the L Z0 99.125 calls could be done receiving 3bps for the structure. If both markets sell-off a gain of 3bps is realized, and the only real downside scenario would be a case where the Fed is on hold through 2010 and the BOE hikes. We view this scenario as very unlikely.
The last central Bank we want to quickly mention is the Bank of Japan. Most market participants expect the BOJ to extend QE and continue to pump liquidity into the system in a desperate 20 year in the making attempt at creating inflation. Whether they succeed or not, it should undermine the vlaue of the JPY. As I have stressed out on many occasions I believe USDJPY is grossly mispriced. The trade is hard to keep on because of risk aversion flight to JPY which can be rather painful, but if one aligns market timing with fundamentals it is a good trade to play from the long side. Watch closely a break past the 91.50 and 92.80 resistances which would confirm an exit outside of the bearish channel and lead to a strong move upward.
Good luck trading,