Trader's thoughts - Bond market rally slows down

It’s a trifle difficult to describe last night’s trade simply.

Market data Source: Bloomberg

Relief-on?

It’s a trifle difficult to describe last night’s trade simply. On the surface, risk assets are being reasonably well supported, and there are a few signals suggesting market participants are in a slightly more bullish state of mind. Rather than “risk-on” however, one might describe the last 12 hours in markets as “relief-on”. This is mostly due to the fact that, at least for now, the global bond market rally has stalled. Markets had worked themselves into a frenzy this week, fretting over the meaning and implications of the precipitous run-higher in safe-haven government debt. It sparked all sorts of repositioning and knee-jerk activity in markets, pulling price action around its massive gravity, and inspiring a general anti-risk sentiment.

It’s been the speed, not the direction

The shocking part of the bond market rally – and let’s recall, for the many folk out there who aren’t bond-market buffs, that when bond prices rally, bond yields ­fall – is not that it is necessarily happening at all. Instead, it is a matter of how quickly it is all happening, and what this rapid shift in momentum means all-in-all. The more benign reasoning is that it’s a basic repositioning, accelerated by technical factors, in response to the dovish turn central bankers have adopted lately across the globe. The direr interpretation, however, was that the swift shift in bond pricing signalled a market pricing in a major economic slow-down, maybe even a recession, in the global economy.

Markets getting ahead of themselves

Both narratives are interrelated and true to some extent. Interest rates expectations have been sliced-down very quickly recently, courtesy of course, to a marked deterioration in global economic growth conditions. But these things take time: hence, the move in bonds seem disproportionate. This isn’t an invitation to rejoice, by any means. Risks in the long term to the global economic outlook are ample, especially as it relates to Chinese and European growth. But to throw in the towel now on global macro-economic outlook would be premature, and potentially wasteful: the actions of central banks are skewing risk-reward in favour of the risk takers, meaning taking a long bias on certain equity indices ought not to be discounted.

The risk-reward balance

A skerrick of this view manifested in market activity last night. Wall Street is up and trending higher, just on an intraday basis, into the close. Most certainly, the fall in bond yields, driven by the prospect of looser monetary policy across the globe, is attracting flows into stocks. It's a continuation of the perennial battle in financial markets: the desire to take risk when financial conditions dictate its attractive to do so, versus the desire to preserve capital when the economic growth environment is degrading. Policy makers are fighting hard to engender a confidence that the former can be trusted and will lead to an improvement in the latter.

Premier Li’s words fire-up traders

Yesterday, and the turnaround in sentiment began here, it was China's policy makers turn to try and settle market participants' nerves. In a speech at the Boao forum, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang outlined his optimistic vision for his nation and stated his belief that the fundamentals of China's economy were inherently sound. He did express that stimulatory measures would be undertaken to address any temporary underperformance in the economy, though avoided pledging major monetary support. However, Premier Li made clear, seemingly in an appeal to his peoples' patriotic fervour and market participants animal spirits, that China's economy is not because of internal problems, but problems that pertain to weakness in the outside world.

It’s not us, it’s them

It's a popular strategy at-the-moment amongst financial leaders, actually: when having to explain what's causing domestic problems, just blame someone else! It was manifest in Premier Li's speech yesterday. But it was also a feature of ECB President Mario Draghi's recent discussions to the market, as well as that of Fed Chair Jerome Powell. The global economy as we know it is very interconnected, so in some sense there is a kernel of truth in stating that weak economic fundamentals is a function of some external factor. But when the centre of the argument is essentially to just point at the other guy, it comes across less as policy discourse, but more as a Three Stooges skit.

The end of the month

The positivity inspired by Premier Li’s rallying call looks to have been discounted in the ASX 200 yesterday. SPI Futures are pointing only to a very small gain at the open today. High impact news is hard to come by today – a lot of the event risk is loaded into next week now. Brexit drama will maintain relevance, but its impact will be contained to (a presently depreciating) Pound. The stronger greenback is a minor theme to follow: despite weaker US GDP figures, the almighty Dollar has smashed the currency complex and gold prices. To tie everything back into rates and fixed income: we wait to see whether AGBs sell-off too, and whether bets of RBA cuts are tempered, too.


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