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GBP USD - FUNDAMENTAL DRIVERS

OANDA:GBPUSD   British Pound / U.S. Dollar
GBP

FUNDAMENTAL BIAS: NEUTRAL

1. Monetary Policy

Hawkish surprise with a hint of dovish undertones sums up the Feb BoE decision. The bank announced the start of passive QT and hiked rates by 25bsp as expected, but the vote split was unanimous (9-0) but with a big hawkish surprise being 4 MPC members voting for a 50bsp hike. Inflation forecasts saw a big upward revision to a 7.25% peak by April ( prev . 6.0%) & 5.21% in 1-year ( prev . 3.40%). This initial hawkish statement saw immediate strength for GBP but during the press conference the BoE tried their best to get a dovish landing. Gov Bailey started his opening remarks by noting that the MPC’s decision to hike was not because the economy was strong but only because higher rates were necessary to return inflation to target, and even though he opened the door for further hikes he added that markets should not assume rates are on a long march higher. He also acknowledged the stagflation fears recently voiced by some market participants by saying that policy faces a trade-off between weakening growth and higher inflation . Despite the dovish nuances, STIR markets still price an implied cash rate of 1.0% by May which would mean a 25bsp in both March and May (1.0% is the level the BoE previously said they would being outright Gilt selling). Overall, the statement was hawkish, but
the clear dovish undertones from the BoE was a bit surprising and also a bit worrisome for the future outlook.

2. Economic & Health Developments

With inflation the main reason for the BoE’s recent rate hikes, there is a concern that the UK economy faces stagflation risk, as price pressures stay sticky while growth decelerates. That also means that current market expectations for rates looks way too aggressive and means downside risks for GBP should growth data push lower, inflation stay sticky, or the BoE continue to push their recent dovish tone.

3. Political Developments

Domestic political uncertainty usually leads to higher risk premiumsfor GBP, so the fate of PM Johnson remains a focus. Fallout from the heavily redacted Sue Gray report was limited but with growing distrust from within his party the question remains whether a vote of no-confidence will happen (if so, that could see short-term downside), and then focus will be on whether the PM can survive an actual vote of no-confidence, where a win should be GBP positive and negative for GBP if he loses. The Northern Ireland protocol is still in focus with the UK threatening to trigger Article 16 and the EU threatening to terminate the Brexit deal if they do. For now,
markets have rightly ignored this as posturing, but any actual escalation can see sharp downside for GBP.

4. CFTC Analysis

Even though recent data started to look more constructive for Sterling from a sentiment point of view, the CFTC data remains a mix bag with no clear consensus view, and nothing really stretched by any means. Interestingly, it seems like Leveraged Funds chose the worse time to move GBP into the biggest net long as the currency took a really big knock last week alongside the EUR.

USD

FUNDAMENTAL BIAS: BULLISH

1. Monetary Policy

The Jan FOMC decision was hawkish on multiple fronts. The statement signalled a March hike as expected, but Chair Powell portrayed a very hawkish tone. Even though Powell said they can’t predict the rate path with certainty, he stressed the economy is in much better shape compared to the 2015 cycle and that will have implications for the pace of hikes (more and faster). Furthermore, he explained that there is ‘quite a bit of room’ to raise rates without damaging employment, which suggests upside risks to the rate path. A big question going into the meeting was how concerned the Fed was about recent equity market volatility . But the Chair explained that markets and financial conditions are reflecting policy changes in advance and that in aggregate the measures they look at isn’t showing red lights. Thus, any ‘Fed Put’ is much further away and inflation is the Fed’s biggest concern right now. The Chair also didn’t rule out the possibility of a 50bsp hike in March or possibly hiking at every meeting this year, which was hawkish as it means the Fed wants optionality to move more aggressive if they need to. We didn’t get new info on the balance sheet and Powell reiterated that they’re contemplating a start of QT after hiking has begun and they’ll discuss this in coming meetings. Overall, the tone and language were a lot more hawkish than the Dec meeting and more hawkish than consensus was expecting.

2. Global & Domestic Economy

As the reserve currency, the USD’s global usage means it’s usually inversely correlated to the global economy and global trade. Thus, USD usually appreciates when growth & inflation slow (disinflation) and depreciates when growth & inflation accelerates (reflation). With expectations that growth and inflation will decelerate this year that should be a positive input for the USD. However, incoming data will also be important in relation to the ‘Fed Put’. There are many similarities between now and 4Q18, where the Fed were also tightening aggressively going into an economic slowdown. As long as growth data slows and the Fed stays aggressive that is a positive for the USD, but if it causes a dovish Fed pivot and lower rate repricing it would be a negative input for the USD.

3. CFTC Analysis

With peak hawkishness for the Fed arguably close to baked in for the USD, it’s been interesting to view the positioning unfold in the past few weeks. The USD remains a net-long across large specs, leveraged funds and asset managers, but price action has been looking stretched. However, given growing stagflation and geopolitical risks it means stretched positioning might not be as important right now, but worth keeping in mind of course.

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