Wednesday, September 21, 2016

21/9/16: BOJ & Fed: Surprises at the End of Policy Line?

My comment for Portugal's Expresso on Bank of Japan and U.S. Fed rate setting meetings (comment prior to both):

English version:

With Bank of Japan clearly running out of assets to buy to sustain its continued efforts to further ease money supply, the Bank’s September 20th meeting is likely to be more significant from the markets perspective than the Fed’s. Back in July, Bank of Japan initiated a comprehensive review of its current policy measures. This move was based on two key pressures faced by Tokyo: the complete lack of monetary policy effectiveness and the shortages of assets eligible for BOJ purchases, still remaining in the markets.

My suspicion is that BOJ is likely to go for the reversal of the Fed’s Operation Twist, buying - as Washington did in 1961 and 2011 - shorter maturity bonds. In 2011, the Fed opted to buy longer-term debt and selling short term bonds. The Fed objective back then was to flatten the yield curve. Bank of Japan today is more desperate to see steepening in maturity curve instead. Paired with deeper foray into negative deposit rates territory, such an Inverse Twist move is probably the likeliest outrun of the current BOJ policy debate, with both policy changes carrying a probability of around 60-70 percent for September 20th meeting. On a longer odds side, expansion of volumes of purchases of bonds (doing more of the same option) for BOJ, in my opinion carries a probability of just 30-40 percent.

BOJ announcement of new policies is potentially more important to the global markets than the Fed’s, in the short run, because BOJ policy options are pretty much similar to those of the ECB, and because Tokyo faces a greater urgency to move this time around. Across the bonds markets, in recent months, there has been an increasing sense that ultra-aggressive monetary policies (those led by BOJ and ECB) have lost their effectiveness just at the time when the central bankers are rapidly running out of option to produce further monetary stimulus without engaging in an outright helicopter money creation. At the same time, as monetary policy effectiveness declined, markets reliance on central banks pumping more and more liquidity into the global financial system is rising as economic fundamentals stubbornly refusing to support current markets valuations in both equities and bonds.

Fed’s rate setting meeting, coming hours after Bank of Japan’s one, will be less predictable and has the capacity to take markets off guard. Prevailing market consensus is that the Fed will simply amplify its extremely moderate hawkish position, signalling once again the growing consensus toward a rate rise after the November Presidential election. In my view, this is the most probable outrun with a probability of around 75 percent. However, given the signs of strengthening economy over 3Q 2016, and the early indications of improving inflationary outlook on foot of August figures, the Fed might surprise with a 25 bps hike in base rates - a low probability (roughly 25%) event. On the ‘hold policy’ side, there has been some disappointing recent economic releases, with a decline in retail sales, flat producer prices inflation and a large drop in industrial production. These, alongside the political cycle, weigh heavily on the probability of a rate hike this week.

The key to the September rates outlook and the markets dynamics will be the twin combination of BOJ and Fed moves. Dovish Fed, alongside further aggressive expansion of Japan’s monetary policy will serve as a forward signal for the ECB to boost its own asset purchasing programme. This is a more likely outcome of Wednesday news flow, given the conditions in the domestic economies and in the global trade environment. Any surprises on the side of the Fed or BOJ deviating from dovish stands will likely be interpreted by the markets as a trigger for bonds sell-off and will also be negative for share prices.

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