The first week of 2023 came with the usual slew of major economic data points, which on net point to the curious post-pandemic era combination of a resilient labour market set against eroding business confidence across the US economy. And if this trend keeps up, it will likely make for a highly bumpy trading landscape in the months ahead, with investors getting yanked in multiple directions.

Still, investors may continue to embrace weak data, especially if signs of descending wage inflation continue. Any indications in the data that the Fed could tap the brakes on its monetary tightening cycle could boost calls for a softer landing that may be optimal for equities.

However, as inflation and rates volatility apex, growth and recession risk will likely be the principal risk factors in 2023. Against that backdrop, if central banks continue tightening, real rates may move higher, choking both corporate profits and the economy more forcefully

Hence US equity risk premia are too low considering recession risks, uncertainty over the growth/inflation mix and relatively weak expected profit growth. 

On the other side of the pond, traders generally remain bullish on STOXX 600 from a valuation perspective amid China tailwinds. Still, based on local economic updrafts, markets could refrain from doing a victory lap and turn cautious about taking too much comfort in the latest series of EU inflation prints which primarily reflected declines in energy prices or government price interventions, whereas core inflation firmed modestly. Not to mention the headline inflation decline is unlikely to stem ECB hawkishness.

The focus will be on the start of the 4Q22 earnings season, which unofficially begins on Friday with results from America's biggest banks and other industry bellwethers, including JPM, BAC, C, and others,

Turning back to macro, the focus is squarely on the December CPI reading on Thursday. Also,  keep an eye on the December NFIB Small Business survey and the November Consumer Credit Survey.

US rates & the Dollar

Mixed US economic data helped fuel a large rally in USTs last week. Both employment measures—nonfarm payrolls and the household survey—were robust, though average hourly earnings rose by less than expected, with October and November readings revised lower. By itself, the jobs report suggested a potential cooling of wage pressures without a significant increase in unemployment. From a market perspective, it supported further downshift at the front end of the curve on the idea that the Fed would be able to ease policy by more than previously priced.

Both ISM surveys, however, were in contractionary territory, implying a defoliated outlook. While this also raises the possibility of more cuts priced in sooner, it would impart more of a bull steepening bias to the yield curve if realized and typically a strong signal to sell the US dollar. 

The Fed still drives currency sentiment, however. The minutes of the December FOMC meeting released last week suggested that no FOMC member saw the need to cut rates this year, even alongside forecasts for a material increase in the unemployment rate. Admittedly, this was within the context of an inflation projection well above target. Still, it indicates a high bar to cutting rates this year absent a rapid inflation normalization.

As such, the focus switches to Thursday's CPI report. Markets are currently split on whether the Fed will raise rates by 25bp or 50bp at the February Federal Open Market Committee meeting. Given the softer wage bias in the NFP  data, and if we get another cool core CPI print, we should have more folks pitching tents in the 25 bp camp and thus selling US dollars.

And supporting the currency challenger side of the equation, ECB's hawkish rhetoric continues, pointing to further rate hikes over the first half of 2023

As the Fed downshifts amid the  ECB upshift, the EURO could be the next keep-it-simple trade  FX markets ride. Although arguably, the Yuan keep-it-simple trade has more room to run 


Short-Term Pain Longer-Term Gain?

The focus on China's "reopening" and relaxation of COVID-related restrictions has intensified in recent weeks. Although infection rates have risen sharply, hurting the near-term growth picture, optimism about the growth outlook beyond the very near term has been growing.

Oil and Commodity markets have underperformed even as Chinese equities have risen sharply as current growth weakness in China may matter more for commodity assets than it does for equities. If that is the case, then the prospect of commodity (oil) upside should enhance as we approach the point where China's growth turns more meaningfully positive again.

One possible explanation is that spot growth weakness is a higher hurdle for oil markets to clear as stocks can look more easily through recent weakness to price forward growth prospects. 

The weekend epiphany of shorts

US markets

U.S. stocks traded notably higher Friday, with investors embracing a weak Services sector business sentiment survey, the first of this cycle, amid signs of descending wage inflation as crucial indications that the Fed will be able to ease its monetary tightening process, which may be optimal for equities 

The U.S. jobs report had a little something for everyone: many more jobs but slower wage growth and a pullback in work hours, suggesting the economy is losing a bit of pep. But hold the applause; the hawkish Fed will likely anguish more about the ongoing tightness in labour markets. The nub of the Fed inflation problem ultimately boils down to cooling the labour market.

On jobs data alone, it was goldilocks with an asterisk. But the gloomy ISM Services data sent cross-asset sentiment soaring after the index fell sharply to 49.6 from 56.5 a month ago, and the ISM Manufacturing index slipped further to 48.4. With 2 of the 3 sides of the economy signalling 'contraction,' the growth outlook may take a significant hit and could cause the Fed to take notice 

Both rates and commodity prices have dropped sharply over the past month-plus, suggesting that input cost inflation may soon fall; hence corporate margins and consumers may feel some relief in an unusual win-win scenario for both Main and Wall Street. 

And the last piece of the inflation puzzle looks set to fall into place. The inability to source components and materials worldwide has limited the availability of all sorts of things and contributed to the global inflation wave. Any signs that the supply chain is easing via a drop in Covid case counts in China should also be good news for the inflation outlook.

But with the recessionary storm clouds billowing on the horizon unless this week's CPI print tells us inflation isn't trending lower, I think we can pencil in 25 bp for the Fed in  Feb, but still, no rate cuts through 2023 until the board declares "checkmate" on inflation.

With cross-asset traders mostly kicking tires all last week, they were forced to kick it into gear, playing catch up on Friday's U.S. data dump as few were in position, and those who had goldilocks trades on board needed more to make it count. And this sets up for another wild ride this upcoming week into US CPI. 

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SPI Asset Management provides forex, commodities, and global indices analysis, in a timely and accurate fashion on major economic trends, technical analysis, and worldwide events that impact different asset classes and investors.

Our publications are for general information purposes only. It is not investment advice or a solicitation to buy or sell securities.

Opinions are the authors — not necessarily SPI Asset Management its officers or directors. Leveraged trading is high risk and not suitable for all. Losses can exceed investments.

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