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Sovereign bond selloff resumes after a short break

5 March 2021

Asian equity markets suffered hefty losses following yesterday’s declines in Wall Street as bond yields resumed their rally. Japan’s Nikkei 225 and Hong Kong’s HSI dropped nearly 3% with the rest of the Asian stock indices all in the red, while US stock futures show no signs of recovery. All three major indices are indicating a negative start led by Tech stocks. In currencies, the dollar ticked higher against its major peers with USDJPY climbing to a seven-month high above 107.

With US inflation expectations over the next five years reaching a 13-year high and long term-borrowing costs on the rise, central banks face tough challenges comforting investors. Financial conditions are tightening despite the monetary policy being loose and policymakers clearly signaling no intention of raising interest rates anytime soon.

The Federal Reserve may need to step up their game by targeting purchases of long-dated bonds to prevent yields from going higher, but so far there are no signs of them implementing this strategy. All eyes will be on Fed Chair Jerome Powell today for any signals of possible changes to monetary policy such as yield curve control.

The sovereign bond selloff is not confined to the US. UK 10-year gilts rose more than 10 basis points to 0.8% after Finance Minister Rishi Sunak announced the country’s 2021 budget. And despite the Eurozone being well behind in vaccinating their population and in terms of their economic recovery, bonds also sold off in Germany, France, Italy and Spain. That tells us it is not just economic fundamentals impacting bond prices, but there seems to be a domino effect caused by rising yields in the US.

Energy and Financials were the only sectors ending in the green on the S&P 500 yesterday. The shift to those value sectors will likely resume along with industrials and basic materials after the passing of Biden’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill.

Oil is another asset class firmly on the radar of many traders. Prices rose for a second straight session after Brent crude tested a two-week low of $62.38 on Tuesday. While the record drop in US gasoline inventories lent prices some support, its today’s OPEC+ meeting that will dictate direction over the short-term. If Saudi Arabia chooses not to continue with its unilateral one million b/d output cut and the group increases production by another 500k b/d, we will end up with 1.5 million b/d additional output. That seems to be the base case scenario for many traders.

Given that recent price moves have been driven more by speculative trading than market fundamentals, any disappointment may lead to a sharp selloff. For prices to remain near their pre-pandemic levels or higher, we need to see a positive surprise. That could occur by keeping the group’s output unchanged or if we get a gradual rollback of Saudi Arabia’s unilateral cuts. It is hard to predict the next move of the cartel due to the various opinions within the group’s members, and that is what makes it an exciting event to watch.



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