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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.

5. The Week Ahead

The past week, our expectations for downside risks for Sterling materialized amid geopolitical risks but the bigger focus for us was the BoE’s hearing where the MPC struck a similar dovish tone like we saw during the press conference of the February policy decision. With close to 6 hikes already priced (possible peak hawkishness scenario), and growth expected to slow, and the BoE looking to stick to their recent dovish tones, that means the med-term risks for downside has become greater than that of further upside, and as a result we have decided to shift our currency bias to neutral from weak bullish . In the week ahead, there is very little important data on the schedule, but we do have speeches from BoE’s Saunders and Mann to watch out for. Apart from that, the ongoing geopolitical situation will be important to watch as last week’s sanctions saw outsized pressure on Sterling compared to the likes of the EUR. However, if the RUB sees enough downside and sparks deeper financial stability concerns then all European currencies are expected to be sensitive to the fallout and something to remember for the week ahead.


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. Even though the USD remains a net-long across large specs, leveraged funds and asset managers, it seems the EUR’s attractiveness has continued to grow and could mean more downside for the USD unless the Fed surprises even more hawkish, and the ECB stays dovish. Also keep safe haven flows in mind as the current geopolitical tensions does add another layer of complexity to the USD.

4. The Week Ahead

Busy week ahead on the data front, with the ISM Manufacturing and Services, ADP national employment and of course the big one with NFP coming up on Friday. The recovery in recent data (Retail Sales & Industrial Prod) suggests a very similar covid bounce like we saw with Delta, and that point to a possible similar bounce in the ISM data this week. However, it’s important to keep in mind the growth trend is still tilted lower for the rest of 2022. Moving on to the jobs data, even though the headline ADP and NFP prints will as always garner attention, the bigger focus for the jobs data will arguably fall to the inflation prints like the Average Hourly earnings . The question is whether the data could beat enough to see markets pricing back a 50bsp hike, as probabilities for a 50bsp hike was sitting at just 26% on Friday. For now, it seems unlikely that a bigger than expected beat would seal the deal for a 50bsp move, especially given the recent uncertainty thrown into markets with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. A lot can happen at the open given the weekend’s reports that the West has banned certain Russian banks from SWIFT and has also said they will freeze assets from the CBR . Given the volatility this could create in EM with the RUB. However, even though the geopolitical situation will be important for the safe haven USD, with the US and the Fed being more isolated, the data will still be important, with the bigger reaction expected on a miss as opposed to a beat, given the amount of hawkishness already priced for the Fed. Just be mindful that the ban on SWIFT could create a slowdown in USD availability which could see the Fed being forced to open up additional swap lines to ease demand, that was a negative when announced in 2020 and can be a trigger for lots of downside (with the EUR a possible big benefactor if that’s the case).

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