“The opposite of currency wars is not necessarily currency peace; it can easily be interest rate wars,” is the warning Citi’s Steve Englander sends in a note toda, as EM and DM bond yields have relatively exploded in recent weeks. The backing up of yields represents an increase in risk premium, so this will likely have negative effects on asset markets and the wealth effect abroad as well. It is difficult to explain the magnitude of the yield backup in terms of normal substitution effects, and broadly speaking, if you were to compare the backing up of bond yields with the beta of the underlying economy and asset markets there would be a good correspondence. So, Englander adds, it is fear, not optimism that is driving bond markets.
Via Steven Englander,
The opposite of currency wars is not necessarily currency peace; it can easily be interest rate wars. Since May 1 the median increase in 10year local bond yields in 47 major EM and developed markets (DM) is 39bps. Among major EM economies (light blue) it is 83bps; among major DM (dark blue) economies it is 29bps. The US 10year Treasury yield increase (red)is only at the median of developed economies and well below the overall median. In both EM and developed economies, the fat tail of rate increases is to the upside, so average increases are even higher. The paradox is that the run-up in US interest rates, which is arguably the primary driver of these global rate increases, is well below the average and median globally.
Even if we assume that the GDP-weighted average increase in yields is about 30bps, it represents a significant tightening in global economic conditions. The inflation picture has not changed materially in the last six weeks; if anything, it may be more benign than earlier thought. On a global level, exchange rates cancel out and do not affect the effective stance of monetary conditions to a good first order approximation. We may argue that the US rates increase is justified by the improved US economic outlook, and some will debate even that.
However, the US represents about 20% of global GDP, and outside the US there have been very few calls for monetary policy tightening. As a consequence roughly 80% of the world has experienced a monetary policy tightening that was neither expected nor desired.
There is a rule of thumb that 100bps of tightening at the short end translated into 20-30bps of tightening at the long end. If we invert that rule and use 30bps as the global average monetary tightening at the long end, then we have experienced the equivalent of 90-150bps of monetary tightening at the short end. If, given the skew, the effective increase at the long is closer to 40bps, we are looking at the equivalent of 120-200bps of short-end tightening. That is a lot, given that EM has been underperforming all year, and euro zone, japan and UK growth on the whole are not registering major upward surprises.
The backing up of yields represents an increase in risk premium, so this will likely have negative effects on asset markets and the wealth effect abroad as well. It is difficult to explain the magnitude of the yield backup in terms of normal substitution effects, and broadly speaking, if you were to compare the backing up of bond yields with the beta of the underlying economy and asset markets there would be a good correspondence. So it is fear, not optimism that is driving bond markets.
This backing up of yields is spilling over into exchange rates, although the correspondence is less than 1-1. In Figure 2 countries are ordered by the magnitude of their depreciation. By and large countries with bigger depreciations have experienced bigger increased in bond yields, although India and Australia stand out as exceptions on one end, and Hungary on the other. The backing up of yields in the euro zone periphery at some point may become a problem, as this adds to growth headwinds. The fact that this backing up is driven by global forces, not sovereign risk concerns does not make it less negative.
It is tempting to say that DM and EM countries facing bond market pressure should just ease monetary policy further and take the hit on the exchange rate, so that effective monetary conditions are eased. Easing in response to the US-bond-market-induced monetary tightening is not feasible for many central banks. The ECB sees itself as having limited policy room now. The impact of BoJ’s easing has been undermined tremendously by the backing up of risk premia and implied volatility, and consequent softening of asset markets. EM is constrained in easing 1) because inflation may respond much quicker than output growth to a significant depreciation, and 2) there is some evidence that depreciations are now translating into further pressure on bond markets, undermining the effectiveness of ease. So bond wars may not be any more pleasant than currency wars.
The upshot is that we may continue to see pressure on commodity and EM currencies until asset market conditions stabilize. We continue to distinguish between higher levels of rates and higher levels of rate and asset market volatility. If US bond markets were to stabilize at current or even higher levels, but be accompanied by lower volatility, then other countries may be able to introduce offsetting macro policies. However, as long as the backing up of bond yields is accompanied by the higher volatility in asset markets, they are likely to find their policy options very constrained, and their asset markets under continuing pressure.