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Betting Against A June Rate Hike? Something's Going On

We noted yesterday that the recent trend of increased volumes into Eurodollar future out-months was 'odd'...

But the sudden surge in interest in Eurodollar calls (vs puts) suggests more than just a few prop bets are being placed on the fact that The Fed does not hike rates in June.

As Bloomberg notes, preliminary futures open interest data for Wednesday shows steep increases in several Jun17 eurodollar call strikes, consistent with view that Fed won't hike in June amid tightening FRA/OIS spread. However, these options bets have largely gone unnoticed as futures-market-implied odds (which the majority of investors are shown) of a June hike have been steady at around 80% for a week.

A second consecutive drop in 3-month dollar Libor setting Wednesday prompted a flurry of dovish Fed bets and waves of buying across Jun17 eurodollar futures.

And furthermore, the Fed Fund Futures curve has flattened dramatically - signalling lost faith in The Fed's hiking trajectory...

And while these bets are being placed - against a June rate hike, the LIBOR-OIS spread - traditionally a signal of bank credit risk, has collapsed back to historic norms.

 

One probable explanation for this is the gusher of bank funding availability that the world's central banks (and even more so China) has unleashed. Nowhere is that more evident than in the total decoupling between "easing" financial conditions, and "tightening" monetary policy...

Despite two rate hikes, Goldman's financial conditions index has improived to its 'easiest' in 8 months - thanks to the world's policy-makers fungible money spigot to keep the dream of reflation alive (as evidenced in the chart above by the S&P 500).

This means, according to Bloomberg's Mark Cudmore, that The Fed’s room to tighten is being underappreciated.

The market adjustment, when it comes, will be felt more in the front end than the long end of the U.S. rates curve.

 

Rates markets are only pricing one-and-a-half more hikes in 2017. That seems reasonable in the blinkered context that inflation shows little sign of accelerating out of control. However, monetary policy analysis needs to be updated.

 

Amid an excess of global liquidity, inflation is being dominated by macro factors. Commodity prices and technological innovations, rather than marginal short-term interest rate adjustments, are top-most in people’s minds.

 

The last two Fed rate hikes had no sustained tightening impact. In fact, financial conditions in the U.S. are the loosest they have been in almost three years, and approaching the extreme of the historical range going back 27 years.

 

 

This suggests that the Fed has plenty of room to tighten policy. Why wouldn’t they take steps to normalize while they can get away with it?

 

Ignoring the fact that this yet again argues for a rethink of inflation targeting and using short-term interest rates as the primary policy tool, it’s important investors don’t misinterpret the rationale and implications of any tightening.

 

The next Fed moves won’t be driven by accelerating growth or runaway inflation, so the yield curve shouldn’t steepen. But a subsequently flatter yield curve shouldn’t be read as signifying a policy misstep.

 

This is just the way of the future. There is extremely abundant liquidity globally due to the expansion of central bank balance sheets. While that’s the case, old economic analysis frameworks are outdated and inadequate.

Which confirms what Morgan Stanley wrote,

Along with record high stocks, credit spreads at the tights since 2014, the broad dollar index continuing to hold little changed about 3% below the high hit in December, and longer-end yields remaining slightly lower year to date, historically low volatility across asset classes adds to a picture of very easy broad financial conditions. So does all the money in the short end helping keep CP yields and LIBOR lower as fed funds rate expectations have been moving up.

 

So the capitulation in pricing of a future reversal in the persistent LIBOR-OIS tightening trend in the past few months accelerated and had a large impact on swap spreads on top of more swapped issuance of corporate bonds by banks. The spot LIBOR-OIS spread fell another 0 7 by to 14 bp, another low since before the first Fed rate hike in 2015 after a 20 by drop in the past two months. That's not far now from the 9bp average from 2004 through the first half of 2007 (before getting as high as 364bp on October 10. 2008. maybe the single most extreme financial market price of the whole crisis). The forward LIBOR-OIS spread to June fell to 14.8bp. down from 15.8bp Tuesday and 19.4bp Friday mostly giving up on any near-term widening. The LIBOR part of that was reflected in the Jun 17 eurodollar futures contract rallying 2bp to 1.265%, down from 1.305% Friday, even as Jul 17 fed funds futures held steady at 1.11%. pricing an 83% chance of a June rate hike, up from 1.095% Friday. Never mind seeing a transmission from the fed funds rate to broad financial conditions in impacts on stocks, long-end yields, the dollar. et al., if higher fed funds rate expectations struggle to even get traction in raising short-term market interest rates.

Which translated into english implies The Fed has lost control of the transmission mechanism of its operations, just as we noted Goldman concerned about, which brings up another question:

If the Fed retains its ability to steer financial conditions, why have financial conditions eased recently despite ongoing hikes? The answer is that Fed policy—especially Fed policy communicated around FOMC meetings—only accounts for a relatively small part of the ups and downs of financial conditions. And other developments such as the sharp pickup in global growth have been helpful for US financial conditions by boosting risk assets while keeping the US dollar from appreciating sharply in response to higher short-term interest rates. While it is difficult to say whether future non-monetary policy shocks will be positive or negative for US financial conditions, our finding that the impact of Fed policy on financial conditions remains (at least) similar to the longer-term average suggests that Fed officials should be able to achieve their goals for financial conditions by moving the funds rate if they try hard enough.

 

Fed Policy Retains Sizable Impact

What Goldman really meant to say is that the Fed's 50 bps in rate hikes since December have been drowned and offset by the trillions in new credit created out of China. That credit expansion is now ending however, and China's credit impulse has tumbled into negative territory (but that's a different topic).

Going back to Goldman, Hatzius adds that "we find that the sensitivity of financial conditions to monetary policy shocks has been quite high recently, at least when we identify these shocks using bond market moves around FOMC meetings. This suggests that the easing of financial conditions is due to other factors, most obviously the improved global environment, not reduced traction of monetary policy."

What form will this monetary tightening "shock" take place? "

Our best (though uncertain) answer is that the committee will need to deliver 50-75bp more hikes per year than priced in the forwards to stabilize the economy at full employment. This is roughly consistent with our current funds rate call that we will see an average of 3-4 hikes per year through the end of 2019, compared with market pricing of just over 1 hike."

Of course, if Goldman is wrong and the Fed has no intention of sending risk assets into a tailspin with a monetary policy "shock", then there is no saying just how much further the combined effort of China's gargantuan, if cooling, credit expansion, coupled with the "dovishly" hiking Fed can take stocks. However, by now it is becoming clear to even the most resentful permabulls - and even Goldman  - that the longer the Fed delays the day of reckoning out of pure fear of the unknown, the greater the chaos and loss in asset values when the Fed no longer has the luxury of picking when to pull the switch.