Today is the day the ECB unofficially starts to exit from unconventional monetary policy as Euro-area banks now have the option to repay some of the 1 trillion Euros of LTRO money afforded to them last year. Banks can now hand back money with one week’s notice, and today at 11am London time is the first announcement of what they have initially done. It’s likely that any repayment will be biased towards stronger banks and as such there’s no real immediate systemic risk from this story. However the market will likely continue to have some focus on the fact that the ECB balance sheet is likely to be steadily shrinking for a period at a time when the Fed is effectively increasing its by $85bn/month and where Japan is seen by many to be set to notably increase its interventions. So while the repayments are not a big deal in themselves the contrast between the ECB and many other central banks means that the Euro is probably biased to appreciate for the foreseeable future. This might provide an unwelcome headwind for growth in Europe later in the year. Despite the promise of the OMT, Europe is in danger as being seen as the least active in the near-term in the currency war skirmishes that are focusing investors minds at the moment. Maybe actions elsewhere and a higher Euro will eventually lead to the ECB balance sheet expanding again after some market stress but this is further down the road.
While on European matters, Draghi is expected to speak at Davos today at 930am London time so it’ll be interesting to hear if he continues to give off an air of increased confidence and whether he discusses the currency at all. Data wise Europe had a mixed day yesterday but the US was strong. In terms of the flash PMIs, Germany (48.8 vs 47.0 expected for Manufacturing, and 55.3 vs 52.0 for Services) was strong but weakness in France (42.9 vs 44.9 expected for Manufacturing, and 43.6 vs 45.5 expected for Services) was notable. The overall European number beat expectations but Germany played a large part in this. Our European economists think that these numbers are consistent with a flat Italian and Spanish composite reading when the data comes out next Friday. The Flash Markit US PMI number was very strong (56.1 vs 53.0). This release is still in its infancy with little track record but if it’s close to being consistent with the official ISM then US markets are not mis-priced at current levels. Indeed in our ISM/S&P 500 simple regression model, at current levels US equities are broadly pricing in an ISM of 54.7. The last ISM was at 50.7 though so the flash PMI is well ahead for now and a bit of caution is required. In Europe the market is much more ahead of the economy as our simple model suggests that equities are broadly pricing in a French, German and Euro-area PMI of 54.5, 56 and 54, respectively (against yesterday’s flash manufacturing numbers of 42.9, 48.8 and 47.5). This is all quite sweeping but in general the US economy is showing signs that it might be living up to some of the faith the equity market has recently shown in it whereas Europe still has a long way to go.
As we said in the 2013 outlook, liquidity and the benefit of the doubt will likely dominate in Q1 and market should generally be in decent shape. However we do need to see Europe show more consistent and broad growth for European markets not to have a set-back in Q2. The jury is still out on this and a steadily increasing Euro won’t help.
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