Turkish central bank keeps benchmark rate at 8%

The Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey surprised markets today by keeping its benchmark repo rate at 8%. It had been expected to hike the repo rate by at least 50bps to attract more investments in the tattered Turkish lira. Instead, the central bank decided to raise the overnight lending rate from 8.5% to 9.25%. It also hiked the late liquidity window lending rate by 100bps to 11% (commercial lenders have been forced to borrow at the expensive late liquidity window rate since mid-January).

EURTRY Intraday 24/01/2017

In a first reaction EURTRY jumped by roughly 2% to 4.1090, but the TRY quickly rebounded and is currently trading at 4.0573. The surprise central bank decision might support the TRY in the short term, but a more determined rate hike will be required to substantially bolster the Turkish currency, in my opinion. I'm staying in my EURTRY short trade for now (down by 0.12% as of this writing), because I still expect the Turkish central bank to realize it will have to do more soon. My guess would be a large surprise hike in the repo rate, perhaps combined with another unconventional policy measure to stop the bleeding. Still, I'm well aware of the risk involved in this trade and I'm prepared to close the position if my expectations don't materialize.

Open positions as of 24/01/2017 8:09pm CET:
EURTRY short from 4.0524, unrealized return: -0.12%

Realized YTD return: +0.7% from 2 trades
Total YTD return: +0.58% from 3 trades

Turkish Central Bank to meet on Tuesday

The Turkish central bank will meet on Tuesday to decide on interest rates. It is expected to raise the benchmark repo rate by 50bp to 8.5%, although it should perhaps hike more (100+bp) to credibly defend the Turkish lira. The central bank might also continue to raise its FX swap auctions rate in an effort to get market swap rates higher as well. This would increase the cost of selling the TRY and - in lieu with a hike in the repo rate - provide additional support to the currency. I'm selling EURTRY at 4.0524.

EURTRY Daily 23/01/2017Open positions as of 23/01/2017 9:18am CET:
EURTRY short from 4.0524, unrealized return: flat

Realized YTD return: +0.7% from 2 trades
Total YTD return: +0.7% from 3 trades

Buy the USD, but against which currency?

I still believe the US dollar will be stronger going forward and I think that its recent weakness presents an excellent buying opportunity. As I wrote in March 2015, there was no reason for the EURUSD exchange rate to go up at that time, unless the Fed would change course and oppose the dollar's strength. Well, that is exactly what happened, unfortunately:

The Federal Reserve has still not hiked rates and some even doubt that it will do so in 2016, while both the ECB and the BoJ have embarrassed themselves by botching up press conferences or entering negative interest rate territory, only to see their currencies go up in value afterwards.

The USD has lost versus most peer currencies, especially the JPY. It's still difficult for me to understand why people have been so concerned about the US economy lately. Every data release that was even slightly below expectations quickly led to more USD selling and EUR or JPY buying. As a result, USDJPY is now fighting not to fall below ¥105 (or even ¥100) while EURUSD recently tried to break above $1.15 (although it has so far failed to do so). The American economy isn't doing that bad, and market participants' obsession with the unemployment rate has reached an outright ridiculous level. At this point it's all about productivity figures!

Anyhow, speculative USD short positions are the highest since 2013. That's a good sign for traders: The extreme EUR & JPY short positions that were the cause of much volatility in 2015 have been reduced substantially, providing new entry opportunities without the risk of extremely sharp moves as in April and December 2015. Market positioning is way more neutral now, which is also a result of investors' inability to interpret central bank actions. Most likely central bankers don't really know what they're doing themselves anymore, so traders are now looking for new reference points that will help them navigate through the muddy waters that are the financial markets. Fundamentals in the US are still better than in Europe and Japan, despite the recent string of disappointing data releases.

But which currency to sell versus the dollar if you share my view? I don't really think the ECB holds much credibility in the markets anymore. Also, Draghi and his team have repeatedly said that they wouldn't introduce new policy measures in the near future because the implemented policy tools needed time to have an effect on the economy. Europe's central bankers are probably too busy discussing their independence from politicians anyway. I expect the EUR to remain range-bound for the time being -- although I must acknowledge that the sideways range in EURUSD has been going on for what looks like a disproportionately long time when comparing it to similar patterns in the exchange rate's history. Be that as it may, the BoJ seems more likely to surprise markets by introducing new easing measures. It is also in a very tricky position now where it has to make decisions within very little room for action around the zero bound. Just how negative can you go, after all? Japan's still fragile economy is in a tough spot here, and I believe both fundamentals and further BoJ actions will reverse the JPY's bout of strength into extended weakness by the end of this year. Conclusion: I'm a USDJPY buyer.

ECB and BOJ may soon buy equities, Reuters reports

As if central bankers hadn't done enough damage already, the masterminds at the helm of the ECB and the BOJ may be considering to buy equities via ETFs, at least according to Reuters. How did they come up with this brilliant idea, you might ask yourself... well, it is to "support market sentiment and stock prices".

With unconventional measures, such as helicopter money, already a part of the public (and perhaps even closed) debate about how to prop up our (so they say) worryingly ailing economies, this should not even be that surprising to be honest: The BOJ has already been buying ETFs, the ECB is buying up bonds wherever it can find them and the Fed has so far chickened out of raising interest rates (and killed forward guidance in the process, but that's another topic).

Let me ask this though: Why don't they simply buy oil, if deflation is really what central bankers are concerned about? Seriously, how does buying equities and thus pushing up stock prices help the average citizen? Doesn't it merely make the portfolios of wealthy people more valuable and hence widen the gap between the middle class and the rich (the playing field is already too uneven for the poor, so let's not even bring them into the equation)? I'm not a friend of conspiracy theories or leftist gibberish about "the 1%", but if stock buying were to become a viable tool for the ECB to "pursue its mandate", as our man Draghi likes to put it, I would really have to sit down and do some serious contemplating about how this market is now functioning versus how it is supposed to work. I thought we were living in a social free market economy, but perhaps I've just been too stupid to see what's been going on these past few years. If what we have right now is not a centrally planned economy, at least with respect to price formation in securities markets and increasingly even access to markets, then I really don't know. What else is there to say?

Macro factors that drove the markets in January

With the first month of the year behind I thought it would be interesting to take a quick look at three major macro themes in the markets at the moment:

Central bank actions -- January 2015 was a month that was dominated by central bank policy actions, most importantly by the ECB which announced a substantial €1,000bn quantitative easing programme on 22 January. However, ECB QE was foreshadowed by the SNB's 15 January decision to abandon the CHF cap, which caused extreme volatility in the foreign exchange market. The SNB apparently did not think it would be able to defend the EURCHF floor once the ECB would begin pumping euros into the economy. The ECB announcement was followed by Denmark's central bank to cut interest rates further into negative territory twice within two weeks. This was to be expected given that the DKK is also pegged to the EUR. Additional central bank actions were seen in Canada and Russia. Central banks were the predominant influence on the markets in 2014 and that is unlikely to change in 2015.

EURUSD January 2015 Chart

Increase in volatility -- Market participants had various negative macro drivers to worry about in January, most notably the drop in commodities prices, political uncertainties and (still) the state of the world economies. Implied volatility in equities, as measured by the VIX index, increased accordingly. The VIX shows first signs of an upward trend that may have started in the fourth quarter of 2014. The expected tightening of Fed monetary policy is certainly one factor behind the increase in volatility, but political frictions with Russia and the recent elections in Greece also weigh on investors' sentiment. Risk-off was a definite theme of January 2015. It also shows in the price of gold and capital flows into other safe haven assets.

01/02/2015 VIX Index Daily Chart

Divergent performance in equities -- However, the performance of national equity indices was more idiosyncratic, as demonstrated by the chart below. While the US stock market struggled somewhat in January, both the DAX and the EuroStoxx50 posted significant gains. Market participants begin to see the strong US dollar as a problem for US exports. In addition, the low price of oil hurts America's oil industry (US oil production is almost at an all-time high), although it certainly lifts a burden off consumers' wallets. As can be seen, European equities were helped particularly by the announcement of ECB QE on 22 January: The DAX has since established a plateau above 10,500 points while the SX5E has stayed above 3,300 points. The Athens Stock Exchange, on the other hand, gave up all of its gains in the last week of January in anticipation of and reaction to Syriza's election victory, which is a major source of uncertainty for the country's economy and the euro zone as a whole. The ASE ended the month at a low of 721.93.

January 2015 Stock Indices Performance Chart