Asian equity markets continued to build on last week’s gains, after U.S. stocks capped their best week since 2013. Investor sentiment has gradually improved after fears of rising inflation sent most global indices into correction territory. The Cboe’s Volatility Index (VIX) ended Friday’s session below 20, suggesting that indictments from Special Counsel Robert Mueller against 13 Russian nationals for alleged interference in the 2016 elections did little to impact investor decisions. With the U.S. markets closed on Monday for President’s Day and the Greater China region remaining offline for the Lunar New Year, expect trading volumes to be below average.
The U.S. Dollar’s weakness remained a bit of a mystery for many currency traders, as it is supposed to follow differential in yields. The gap between U.S. and German 10-year yields widened to 217 basis points, and had gained 28% since mid-July 2017. Similarly, U.S. – Japan 10-year yields widened 285 basis points, the highest increase since 2007. Still, the Dollar declined against the Euro, Japanese Yen and all other major currencies.
One explanation for why the correlation between the Dollar and yield differentials has broken recently, is that financial market participants are forward-looking. Investors believe that rising inflation in the U.S. will spread to other economies, leading to tighter monetary policies elsewhere. When major central banks such as the European Central Bank, Bank of England and Bank of Japan begin normalizing policies, rate differentials will narrow at a fast pace, given that they are starting from a very low base.
Yields in the U.S. are not just rising because of higher inflation expectations, but also due to rising twin deficits – the fiscal and current account. This should make U.S. debt less attractive, and gold will likely become the primary beneficiary as it continues to benefit from inflationary pressures and budget deficit worries.
However, this view may change if the Fed decides to take a more aggressive approach in fighting inflation. Wednesday’s FOMC minutes will likely reveal fresh hawkish insights, but for the dollar to make a U-turn, it requires the Fed to tighten policy faster than previously estimated. Any indication of four rate hikes instead of three in 2018 will do the trick, but this is unlikely to appear in Wednesday’s minutes, and investors will probably need to wait until the March meeting.
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