ECB Officials Support Lowering Expectations for Rate Cuts
As the new calendar year unfolds, the euro has emerged as a standout performer among the G10 currencies, standing shoulder to shoulder with other major counterparts such as the pound and the US dollar. In stark contrast, the yen has struggled to keep pace, resulting in a notable 3% surge in the EUR/JPY pair, reclaiming ground up to the 160.00-level. The yen's lacklustre performance was exacerbated by the recent release of labour cash earnings data for November, indicating a softening trend. However, upon adjusting for sample changes, there is a silver lining as base pay for regular workers has shown a positive increase of 1.9% over the past year. This could potentially be uplifting news for the Bank of Japan (BoJ), currently during evaluating the sustainability of stronger wage growth in the upcoming fiscal year.
Governor Ueda's recent comments, coupled with the prevailing uncertainties surrounding the economic impact of recent earthquakes, have dimmed the prospects of the BoJ confidently exiting negative rates until at least April. This cautious approach aligns with the ongoing assessment of whether the positive trajectory in wage growth can be sustained in the face of the economic challenges posed by seismic events.
Turning our attention to the interest rate dynamics, I observe a nuanced picture. While Japan experiences a correction in yields at the start of the year, the euro-zone presents a contrasting scenario. Market participants are recalibrating their expectations regarding the pace and depth of potential rate cuts by the European Central Bank (ECB) in the upcoming months. The implied yields on the March 2024 and December 2024 three-month interest rate futures contracts have surged by approximately 14bps and 33bps, respectively, since late last year.
Despite this upward shift, the euro-zone rate market continues to fully price in the anticipation of the first 25bps cut from the ECB by the 11th of April policy meeting. Furthermore, it foresees a cumulative total of 136bps of cuts by the end of the year. The recent hawkish repricing of expectations is bolstered by comments from ECB officials, notably Executive Board Member Schnabel. She asserted that it is premature to discuss rate cuts at this juncture and emphasized the necessity of "additional data confirming the disinflationary process." In her assessment, crucial determinants of the inflation outlook include "wages, profits, and productivity." Consequently, the likelihood of the first-rate cut appears dim until at least Q2 when the ECB can leverage a more comprehensive dataset.
Similarly, ECB Vice President De Guindos expressed a measured stance on the economic weakness in the euro-zone. He perceives the current challenges as "contained and gradual," with the labour market exhibiting remarkable resilience. While acknowledging a clear downward trajectory for core inflation in late 2023, De Guindos anticipates a temporary pause in inflation progress at the onset of this year. The ECB's cautious approach towards delivering rate cuts in line with market expectations is contributing to the strengthening of the euro as we embark on the new year.
In conclusion, the currency dynamics and central bank policies at the outset of this year paint a complex yet intriguing picture. The euro's resilience in the face of shifting market sentiments, coupled with the cautious stance of the ECB, presents a dynamic landscape for traders and investors alike. As we navigate through the unfolding developments, the interplay between economic data, central bank decisions, and global events will continue to shape the trajectory of these currencies in the months to come.
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