Shares, Bonds Rally as Markets Count on Cautious Fed

LONDON (Reuters) —
A man stands next to a bank electronic board showing the Hong Kong share index at Hong Kong Stock Exchange Thursday. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

World shares hit their fourth all-time high in less than a month on Thursday as investors wagered policy tightening in the United States would be glacial at best, lifting Wall Street to record peaks and lowering bond yields almost everywhere.

The star performer was the Canadian dollar, which rocketed to 11-month highs after the country’s central bank hiked rates for the first time in seven years and left the door wide open to further moves.

The overall mood was one of relief that Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen had not sounded more hawkish in her appearance before Congress, a green light for risk taking.

Sentiment got another boost when China reported upbeat data on exports and imports for June, the latest sign that global trade is finding some real traction again.

It helped push Asian shares up more than 1 percent and lifted MSCI’s 47-country world index to its latest record high, though Europe barely budged.

Traders there were happy to take a breather after a 1.6 percent gain on Wednesday had given the region its best day since April’s French election victory for Emmanuel Macron.

“It mostly seems to be down to Yellen,” Rabobank quantitative analyst Bas Van Geffen said. “The fact that it seems like the Fed is going to take it slowly is being seen as a good sign by the equity markets and by the currency markets.”

One of the Fed chief’s comments that markets latched on to was her view that the bank would not need to raise U.S. rates “all that much further” to reach current low estimates of the “neutral” funds rate.

Equities were also underpinned by a drop in bond yields as Yellen also sounded cautious on inflation. Spooked last month by an outbreak of harmony among top central banks about tightening policy, debt markets jitters appear to have evaporated again.

Indeed, markets doubt even that modest Fed tightening will ensue and imply only a 50-50 chance of a rise by December.

Treasuries rallied in reaction, with yields on two-year notes falling to three-week lows, as did bonds in Europe and Asia.

Germany’s benchmark 10-year Bund yield was flat on the day at 0.51 percent. They have now given back a quarter of the rise triggered by last month’s hint from ECB head Mario Draghi that it was readying to scale back stimulus.

Treasuries meanwhile have clawed back a third of their selloff.

“The market did perceive a greater degree of anxiety over inflation – at the margin,” said Westpac’s U.S. economist, Elliot Clarke. “To our mind, this is unlikely to get in the way of another hike this year.”

“Two further hikes in 2018 will likely be justified by conditions. However, the case for additional hikes thereafter is nowhere near being made.”

The odd one out was Canada, where yields hit their highest since late 2013 after the Bank of Canada raised rates a quarter point, saying the economy no longer needed as much stimulus.

The Canadian dollar notched its biggest percentage gain since March 2016 and was last trading near one-year peaks at C$1.2740. The Aussie and Kiwi dollars jetted higher too.

The main loser was the U.S. dollar which slipped to 112.97 on the yen, while the euro edged up to $1.1451. Against a basket of currencies, the dollar was within a whisker of nine-month lows at 95.650.

The drop in U.S. yields benefited gold, which pays no interest, and pushed the precious metal up 0.3 percent to $1,223.16 and away from its recent trough of $1,204.45.

Oil prices flatlined as producer club OPEC said it expected demand to decline next year as rivals pump more, though the Chinese trade data showed it remained a heavy buyer.

Brent crude futures were off 4 cents at $47.70 a barrel, while U.S. crude eased 5 cents to $45.44.

Asia’s share market gains had also lifted Indian stocks to an all-time high. South Korea and Australia’s main indexes both climbed 1.1 percent too, the former helped as its central bank kept interest rates at a record low.

Japan’s Nikkei was restrained by a firmer yen and ended flat.

“Dollar positioning is short and yesterday’s testimony just confirmed what the market believed: that the Fed is not going to be able to be as hawkish as they are suggesting,” said Athanasios Vamvakidis, head of G10 FX strategy with Bank of America Merrill Lynch in London.

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