Gold rallied for much of Friday aided by concerns of the second wave of Covid-19 outbreak triggered in part by the possibility of a renewed lockdown in Houston, Texas.
However, gold lost its footing later in the New York session, given the gradual recovery in risk sentiment into the close. Gold put in an intense week, despite shedding gains on Friday.
Mostly there seems to be enough risk to continue to float gold, but the market remains unsure about putting in new highs this week. While over the medium term, if the US unemployment rate remains persistently high, the economy will require more stimulus where gold should then benefit from rising debt.
But with all eyes trained on the US Fed’s Monetary Policy Report to Congress, the outcome should be very friendly to gold, especially if Chair Powell reiterates the economy would remain prone to “persistent fragilities” as a result of the shock to economic activity arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Currency markets are still on the risk roundabout
Risk appetite has recovered some ground. But with Covid-19 Friday playbooks getting dusted off, where since March until very recently, the tendency was to de-risk across all assets into the weekend, the SPX was never going to fire higher without meaningful news on the Covid-19 front to shift the mood more favourably on Friday.
But Texas serves as a reminder of the economic risks of the second wave of COVID-19. While the historic drop in the UK’s GDP during April is a lingering mnemonic of how damaging the first wave has been, still, it is not clear what the policy response would be to a second wave.
In the US, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said the US should not shut down even if there is a renewed surge in infection rates, telling CNBC, “we can’t shut down the economy again.”
Risk of community transmission
However, if the continued relaxation does little more than provide an open window for community transmission, short sellers will run roughshod over US equity markets. But that begs the question: why on earth would you want to own US dollars when other economies around the world are emerging from lockdown with the virus well under control so far.
Sure, the market infatuation with risk-on risk-off could last a bit longer, but with the Fed staying on a dovish tack, rates on hold and, as such, you can not expect the US dollar curves to remain bid.
And even if the US government does not instigate second lockdowns, consumer behaviour will most certainly be impacted via self-imposed stay-at-home measures. Regardless of the government mandates, there could be an adverse knock-on effect across every sector as the recovery at minimum slows as people stay at home to avoid catching the flu. The second wave of Covid-19 remains the greatest threat to markets if you cannot get people over the line.
The Fed needs to move its narrative forward
Outside of intensifying worries around a resurgence of Covid-19, last week’s collapse in risk appetite might also suggest a heightened sensitivity around the extent of policy support for asset prices. The Fed on Wednesday had sounded dovish, but the problem for markets is that the Fed did not move its narrative forward.
As for forex markets, last week started with continued positive risk sentiment, equities holding onto gains, a general US dollar selling bias, and risk premium continuing to be taken out of vol curves.
However, the combination of concerns around the second wave of Coronavirus and a Fed that delivered on expectations rather than exceeding them, led to corrections and paring back in currency risk overall.
There was light new participation on the US dollar’s upside move.
Interestingly, there has been less participation than one would expect in the risk-off moves, which suggests consolidation rather than an outright correction from here.
I still think we will see a lot of reshuffling as risk assets will continue to trade mixed early in the week as if Friday market zig zag proclivities straight-up US dollar trends could be tougher to come by with Covid-19 making the headlines reels again.
Swiss Franc under pressure
The Swiss franc briefly dropped below 1.09 last week, driven by speculative investors unwinding long positions in the wake of favourable European developments. Signs of renewed interest in Europe as an investment destination for Swiss investors could trigger franc outflows, which would then drive the currency weaker.
Brexit weighs on the British Pound
Friday, along with weekend developments, illustrates how Brexit is likely to become a critical factor for GBP going forward. The UK’s chief Brexit negotiator, David Frost, retweeted the government’s position on the on-the-transition period, stating, “we will not ask to extend it. If the EU asks, we will say no”. The combination of a Covid-19 induced recession and a no-deal Brexit could provide the knockout punch, and the UK economy could struggle to lift off the mat well into 2021.
Euro still in favour despite sell-off
The resurfacing of Covid-19 fears in the US-led to a sharp selloff in risk assets. EURUSD had another steep sell-off in the US market. Still, given the re-opening of economies in Europe and steady infection numbers, I hardly see a reason to sell the Euro, other than positioning and the market perception that it should go lower in a risk-off environment. Whether that correlation makes sense at the moment is another question.
The US dollar
After surging earlier this year, the US dollar is shifting lower as the dollar was arguable well overvalued but benefited for steady inflows int US stocks while exhibiting haven tendencies.
But that is changing as investors are increasingly looking outside of the US for investment. And with US dollar short-sellers less encumbered by volume-adjusted carry, which is now relatively low on most G10 crosses, it should be just a matter of picking your spots.
However, the main obstacle in that view is a pick-up in virus transmission as the reopening process gets underway outside of the US.
FX and Gold markets analysis and insights from Stephen Innes, Chief Global Market Strategist at AxiCorp