Tomorrow’s Bank of England meeting is one of the most important events this month. Back in July, U.K. policymakers made their plans to ease in August abundantly clear and now that the time has come, sterling has been surprisingly stable. By giving investors sufficient warning, the market had the opportunity to completely discount a 25bp rate cut and the question now is if the BoE will do more. They could cut interest rates by 50bp or they could combine a quarter point cut with renewed bond buying. Quantitative Easing was a critical part of the BoE’s monetary policy during the financial crisis but with interest rates already so low, the effectiveness of QE is in question. Many economists believe they will revive the program but not this week. Since Britain decided to leave the European Union, the Bank of England has taken major steps to stabilize the financial markets and encourage lending – and so far it has worked! Stocks are stable, yields have increased and the doomsday sentiment in the market is fading. A lot of this has to do with the U.K. government’s decision to postpone invoking Article 50 for the next year or two, reducing the immediate risk for businesses. This means the central bank can wait to ease again when there is a greater evidence of a deep contraction in the economy.
Taking a look at the table above, there’s certainly been more deterioration than improvement in the U.K. economy since the July monetary policy meeting. However wages are up, the unemployment rate is down and consumer prices are ticking higher. Second quarter GDP growth was also better than expected. Although manufacturing, services and the composite PMI indices fell sharply in July, this morning’s numbers were not revised lower after the flash release. When the Bank of England releases their Quarterly Inflation Report tomorrow, their forecasts will be grim – policymakers previously warned of a possible recession post Brexit. Governor Mark Carney won’t have anything positive to say outside of acknowledging financial market stabilization. Yet economic and financial conditions are not desperate enough for the Bank of England to rekindle their QE program.
In other words, we feel that the Bank of England doesn’t need to send a strong message to the market right now outside of a 25bp rate cut and a stern warning of more easing in the coming months. If we are right, we could see a bigger short squeeze in GBP/USD that will allow investors to reset their short positions at higher levels. The U.K. is not out of the woods, as growth will only slow further in the coming months / years because the U.K. government is simply delaying the inevitable. If they cut by 50bp or restart their bond buying program, sterling will fall quickly and aggressively.
The Reserve Bank of Australia also has a monetary policy announcement and the majority of economists surveyed expect the RBA to cut interest rates by 25bp but we feel that a rate cut is not a done deal. The last time we heard from the RBA they sounded open to the idea of easing if data supports it but since the last meeting in July, manufacturing activity accelerated, consumer prices increased, full time job growth rebounded, business confidence improved and the participation rate is up as shown in the table below. Granted consumer confidence is down and the unemployment rate ticked up, we’re not sure if this is enough for the RBA to pull the trigger on easing in August. The AiG Performance of Manufacturing Index rose to 56.4 vs. 51.8 previous. Chinese PMI numbers were mixed. The official manufacturing PMI showed a decline from 50 to 49.9. The Caixin Manufacturing PMI reading registered an increase in activity, coming in at 50.6 vs. 48.9 expected. Australia’s trade balance and building approvals report will be released pre-RBA but the rate decision will be key. If the RBA cuts, AUD/USD will drop below 0.75 cents quickly but if they hold rates steady, we should see Monday’s high of 0.7615 recaptured.
Taking a look at the day to day change in the U.S. dollar, it may seem that there was very little consistency in the performance of the greenback ahead of Wednesday’s monetary policy announcement. However if we isolate the price action to the U.S. session, the dollar moved higher against most of the major currencies. This morning’s U.S. economic reports were mostly better than expected with consumer confidence beating expectations and new home sales rising sharply. Service sector activity slowed according to Markit Economics and house prices dropped slightly but that was not enough to deter investors from buying dollars pre-FOMC. During a time when central banks around the world are actively talking about and planning for easing, the Federal Reserve’s hawkish bias will shine a bright light on the dollar. Many feared that the Fed would give up on the idea of tightening after Brexit but as we have seen U.S. markets and the U.S. economy have proven to be fairly resilient.
The following table shows more improvements than deterioration in the U.S. economy since the June Fed meeting. Retail sales increased, non-farm payrolls rebounded strongly with job growth rising 287k in June, the housing market is chugging along, manufacturing and service sector activity are on the rise. U.S. stocks also hit record highs while plunging U.S. yields provide support to the economy. The currency has strengthened across the board but the strongest gains were against the British pound. We’ve also heard from a number of FOMC voters since Brexit and they still seemed to support the idea of tightening. The FOMC statement generally reflects the views of the Fed leadership (Yellen, Fischer and Dudley) and it is likely to recognize the improvements in the economy since June. Of course, there will still be notes of caution and everything will be “data dependent” but we expect the main takeaway to be that a 2016 rate hike remains on the table. The Fed needs to move forward with policy normalization and they can’t wait around for the U.K. to invoke Article 50 which could take up to 2 years. So we expect the dollar to trade higher into and after FOMC. There won’t be fireworks but there could still be some quick trading opportunities.
May was a very strong month for the U.S. dollar and that was no surprise to our readers because we shared this chart at the beginning of the month showing how well the dollar performs in May. With last month’s gains, the positive seasonal bias continued for 7 straight years but on this first day of June, we are more interested in how seasonality affects currencies in the new month.
Which is why we updated our seasonality tables –
As you can see, there’s a negative bias for the Dollar Index in June. After strong performance in May, profit taking tends to drive the greenback lower in June. The seasonal trends are strongest for GBP/USD, EUR/USD and AUD/USD. However the gains in general are relatively modest with the dollar giving back only part of the past month’s moves.
Seasonal trends are important but with the Federal Reserve poised to make a major decision in June and the U.K. holding a referendum on E.U. membership – this year’s unique factors could easily overshadow seasonal trends. With that in mind, if the U.K. votes to remain in the European Union (and we think they will), the corresponding relief rally could drive the dollar lower against sterling and other high beta currencies.