The U.S. Federal Reserve and its global counterparts moved aggressively with sweeping emergency rate cuts and offers of cheap dollars to help combat the coronavirus pandemic that has jolted markets and paralyzed large parts of the world economy.
The coordinated response from the Fed to the European Central Bank (ECB) and the Bank of Japan (BOJ) came amid a meltdown in financial markets as investor anxiety deepened over the difficulty of tackling a pathogen that has left thousands dead and put many countries on virtual lockdowns.
The Fed moved first on Sunday, cutting its key rate to near zero in a move reminiscent of the steps taken just over a decade ago in the wake of the financial crisis.
The U.S. decision triggered emergency policy easings by central banks in New Zealand, Japan and South Korea, with Australia also joining with a liquidity injection in a coordinated move aimed at stabilizing confidence as the pandemic threatened a global recession.
«The virus is having a profound effect on people across the United States and around the world,» Fed Chair Jerome Powell said in a news conference after cutting short-term rates to a target range of 0% to 0.25%, and announcing at least $700 billion in Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities purchases in coming weeks.
The Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) slashed rates to a record low as markets in Asia opened for trading this week, while Australia’s central bank pumped extra liquidity into a strained financial system and said it would announce more policy steps on Thursday.
Later, the Bank of Japan too eased policy in an emergency meeting, ramping up purchases of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and other risky assets to combat the widening economic fallout from the coronavirus epidemic.
Neighboring South Korea stepped in as well with a 50 basis point rate cut in a rare inter-meeting review on Monday.
«I don’t think we have reached a limit on how deep we can cut interest rates,» BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda said.
«If necessary, we can deepen negative rates further,» he added.
«We can continue to pump ample liquidity into the market.»
The measures did little to calm market nerves though, as Asian shares and U.S. stock futures plummeted, underscoring the fears the health crisis might prove much more damaging to the global economy than initially anticipated.
France and Spain joined Italy in imposing lockdowns on tens of millions of people, while the United States saw school closings, runs on grocery stores, shuttered restaurants and retailers, and ends to sports events.
«Market reactions to each surprise monetary policy easing have been sell first and ask questions later,» said Selena Ling, head of treasury research and strategy at OCBC Bank in Singapore.
«The more unprecedented measures by the Fed and other central banks, the more investors worry if (they) know something we don’t… fear remains the crux of the problem here as market players remain unconvinced that monetary policy easing and liquidity injections will solve an essentially healthcare crisis.»
Five other central banks cut pricing on their swap lines to make it easier to provide dollars to their financial institutions, ramping up efforts to loosen gummed up funding markets and calm credit markets. They also agreed to offer three-month credit in U.S. dollars on a regular basis and at a rate cheaper than usual.
The move was designed to bring down the price banks and companies pay to access U.S. dollars, which has surged in recent weeks as a coronavirus pandemic spooked investors.
However, analysts say flooding banks with cash at near-zero rates won’t help fix dislocations in credit markets caused by fear of lending to businesses with mounting losses, which in turn fuels distrust among banks.
Moreover, analysts at major banks and ratings agencies are predicting a marked downturn in the world economy, and some say a recession is unavoidable.
«We believe that financial markets stress could ultimately be the proverbial ‘straw that breaks the camel’s back’, and hence, we continue to monitor these very closely,» Fitch Solutions said in a note on Monday, adding its forecasts were subject to «downside risks.»
«While we expect to see more major central banks cut interest rates further in a bid to support growth…there are limits to how low they can go.»
The People’s Bank of China (PBoC), which has rolled out powerful stimulus measures since the outbreak began in the country’s Hubei province late last year, was a bit of an outlier as it kept its rates steady, though analysts expected a cut later this week.
The dollar edged higher in early European trade Wednesday, with the safe haven currency in demand as a resurgence of the coronavirus in the United States cast doubt over the strength of the economic rebound.
At 3:050 AM ET (0705 GMT), the dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of six other currencies, was up 0.1% at 96.873.
There are almost 11.8 million COVID-19 cases globally as of July 8, according to Johns Hopkins University data, of which the U.S. has the highest known numbers of cases and deaths in the world.
A number of Federal Reserve officials expressed concern Tuesday that the surge in infections could adversely impact the economy just as some stimulus programmes are set to expire.
Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank President Raphael Bostic warned that the spike in the number of cases has made business owners “nervous again” and that ‘there is a real sense this might go on longer than we have planned for.”
Still, the rise in cases is not simply a matter for America. The AUD/USD pair lost 0.2% to 0.6935, with the Australian dollar weakening after the country’s second-largest city Melbourne re-imposed lockdown measures to curb the outbreak.
Elsewhere, GBP/USD gained 0.2% to 1.2559 after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the U.K. remains committed to working hard to find an agreement over trade with the EU. Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak is due to announce details of the country’s latest fiscal stimulus package later Wednesday.
Sterling has gained around 0.6% this week against the dollar and 0.4% against the euro, but still remains one of the weakest G7 currencies as doubts still remain as to whether a trade deal will be signed by the end of the year.
Additionally, skepticism exists that a proposal by some of Donald Trump’s advisers to undermine Hong Kong’s currency peg would come to fruition, as such a move would be difficult to implement and risk hurting U.S. interests as much as it would punish China.
Oil retreats slightly on risk aversion
With one eye on the equity markets overnight, oil markets mirrored the response of currency markets, giving up some of their recent gains and slipping into range trading mode. Brent crude fell slightly by 0.70% to 42.90 a barrel. WTI eased by 0.70% to USD 40.50 a barrel.
Both contracts are unchanged this morning in Asia, with critical resistance on Brent crude at USD 44.00 a barrel, and on WTI at USD 42.00 a barrel. Only a fall below USD 40.00 a barrel for Brent crude, or USD 37.00 a barrel for WTI, would suggest that the rally in oil prices has run its course.
Oil prices continue to remain balanced between Covid-19 induced growth concerns, and recovery expectations in Asia and Europe. Oil’s downside is likely to be limited unless the US situation deteriorates dramatically. OPEC+ discipline is high, and the grouping will no doubt find the willingness to extend the headline cuts if the situation calls for it.
Excitement builds for gold longs as USD 1800.00 approaches
Anticipation is building in the gold fraternity, with Covid-19 concerns giving a haven boost to prices overnight. Gold rose 0.60% to USD 1795.00 an ounce, having tested USD 1797.00 an ounce earlier in the session. Gold’s grind higher is remorseless and pleasingly, appears to have detached itself from negative equity price action for now.
The USD 1800.00 an ounce region will be a tough nut to crack though. It capped gold’s advance multiple times from 2011 to 2012. I do not doubt that there will be substantial option related offers ahead of it to defend USD 1800.00 strikes. Nevertheless, gold is girding itself for the long-awaited assault on this critical resistance level. Gold had support at USD 1775.00 an ounce. Only a daily close below here would delay proceedings. Should USD 1800.00 an ounce give way, gold is likely to move quickly to the USD 1820-1830 zone, driven by stop loss and algorithmic buying.
Gold is unchanged in Asia today in yet another moribund session. It will probably be left to the New York market to get the job done.
Oil prices fell on Tuesday, erasing earlier gains, on concerns that the surge in coronavirus cases in the United States, the world’s biggest oil user, will limit a recovery in fuel demand.
U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude (CLc1) futures fell 17 cents, or 0.4%, to $40.46 a barrel at 0340 GMT, after earlier rising to as high as $40.79.
Brent crude (LCOc1) futures declined by 19 cents, or 0.4%, to $42.91, after hitting an intraday high of $43.19.
With 16 U.S. states reporting record increases in new COVID-19 case in the first five days of July, according to a Reuters tally, there is mounting concern that public health measures to limit the virus spread will curb fuel demand.
Florida is re-introducing some limits on economic reopenings to grapple with rising cases. California and Texas, two of the most populous and economically crucial U.S. states, are also reporting high infection rates as a percentage of diagnostic tests conducted over the past week.
«The potential for demand destruction as lockdown re-instatement looks more likely are combining with concerns about OPEC+ discipline to weigh on oil prices,» said CMC Markets’s Chief Market Strategist Michael McCarthy in Sydney in an email.
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and other producers including Russia, collectively known as OPEC+, are lowering output by 9.7 million barrels per day (bpd) for a third month in July.
However, those cuts are set to taper to 7.7 million bpd starting next month, adding supply at the same time U.S. fuel demand, especially for gasoline, remains impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.
«Summer driving demand in the U.S. is low, keeping gasoline demand subdued, and a reintroduction of lockdowns is a major headwind,» ANZ said in a note.
Data from the American Petroleum Institute industry group later on Tuesday and the U.S. Energy Information Administration on Wednesday are expected to show a 100,000 barrel rise in gasoline stockpiles, six analysts polled by Reuters estimated.
The U.S. crude market faces some uncertainties from a court decision on Monday ordering the shutdown of the Dakota Access pipeline, the biggest artery transporting crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken shale basin to Midwest and Gulf Coast regions, over environmental concerns.
Market sources in the Bakken said the closure of the 570,000-bpd pipeline, while a thorough environmental impact statement is completed, will likely divert some oil flows to transportation by rail.