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"Business As Usual" Despite Omicron?

Tyler Durden's Photo
by Tyler Durden
Monday, Dec 06, 2021 - 09:30 AM

By Jane Foley, head of FX strategy at Rabobank

Investors hoping that Friday’s release of the November US labor market would be a simple tick-box exercise for the Fed’s move towards policy normalisation were likely disappointed.  The headline non-farm payrolls report at 210K was only about half what the market had expected it to be, though the shock of this number was lessened by talk of a potentially unreliable seasonal adjustment in addition to a strong set of data from the household survey.  The latter showed a sharp drop in the unemployment rate to just 4.2% in November.  For many this will have been sufficient for the Fed to continue preparing to announce a hastening in the pace of tapering of its bond buying program at the December 14/15 FOMC meeting.  After a volatile fortnight on the back of fears of a more hawkish Fed, the Nasdaq closed down 1.92% on Friday.  While Asian stocks this morning mostly followed US stocks lower, futures are showing signs of resilience. 

Despite the confusion surrounding the economic implications from the Omicron variant, Fed Chair Powell and other FOMC members had suggested a ‘business as usual’ approach to policy last week by suggesting that a hastening in the pace of QE tapering very much remained on the cards.  The fact that the market consensus for this week’s US November CPI inflation release stands at a eye-watering 6.7% y/y will be seen by some as an endorsement of the Fed’s hawkish tone. 

That said, the IMF has warned of growth risks stemming from Omicron and other central banks seem prepared to take a more cautious approach.  The BoE’s Chief hawk Saunders, who voted for a rate hike in November, suggested on Friday that he would like more information on Omicron before deciding how to vote on policy next week.  The UK money market has backed away from fully pricing in a BoE rate hike for December, though a February move is still on the cards.  Both the BoC and the RBA are due to meet this week and steady policy is expected from both.  Omicron is likely to provide the RBA with further reason to extend its already dovish position.  That said, the strong rise in Canadian employment in November is feeding speculation that the BoC could bring forward rate hikes, with April being touted by commentators as a possible start date for policy tightening. 

There have been various headlines in recent days in a slew of countries about additional restrictions being put in place in an effort to slow the transmission of Covid.  Over the weekend police in Belgian used water cannon and tear-gas to disperse violent protests against fresh restrictions.  Germany last week announced social curbs on the unvaccinated while Greece introduced fines on the over-60s who refuse to be jabbed.

As evidenced by the protests, none of this sits comfortably in liberal democracies with some premiers, such as UK PM Johnson, likely very nervous of a backlash from any further fresh restriction.  Omicron has now been detected in seventeen EU countries and US data suggest that Omicron has spread to around one–third of US states, though Delta remains the dominant variant.  Encouraging there have been several press reports indicating that while Omicron may increase the risk of transmission, the symptoms may be milder.  This view was endorsed by US infectious disease official Fauci over the weekend who commented that "thus far it does not look like there's a great degree of severity to it."  That said, S. Africa is preparing its hospitals for more admission, though its low vaccine rollout rate will be a factor.

Bitcoin took a tumble over the weekend as profit-taking picked up momentum.  Gold found support on the fall back in longer term bond yields and oil prices picked up some support after Saudi Arabia raised prices for crude sold to Asia and the US.  No real progress appears to have been made on reviving the nuclear deal between the US and Iran.

Week ahead

President’s Biden and Putin will speak via video call on Tuesday amid mounting tensions over Ukraine.  This follows reports from US Secretary of State that there was evidence that Russia had made plans for a ‘large scale’ attack on Ukraine.  It is expected the Biden will reaffirm US support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. Bloomberg news have reported that over the weekend there was a ‘testy exchange’ between US Secretary of State Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov over Ukraine with the former recapping events in 2014 when more than 100 people participating in a peaceful protests were killed.

Evergrande is back in the headlines this morning following a statement from the Chinese property developers on Friday saying that creditors had demanded USD260 million and that it could not guarantee enough funds.  Chinese government officials summoned Evergrande’s Chair and the PBoC has stepped up its criticism of the company accusing it of ‘poor management’ and pursing ‘blind expansion’.  Reports in Chinese state media that Beijing will cut banks’ reserve requirement ratio ‘in a timely way’ lent a little support to mainland Chinese blue chips overnight

A decidedly weak -6.9% m/m print for October Germany factory orders this morning is a sharp reminder of the headwinds facing the Eurozone’s largest economy.  Tomorrow, German ZEW survey data is also expected to soften.  Key UK data this week includes monthly GDP data and production numbers for October.  In addition to the November CPI inflation data, the US calendar also includes the December Michigan confidence survey.  Ahead of next weeks Fed, ECB, BoE and BoJ policy meetings little additional direction can be expected from central bankers leaving more room for investors to seek clues from this week’s BoC and RBA policy meetings. 

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