Ideally, a rise in the price of oil, resulting from improvement in worldwide economic conditions, would increase inflation expectations and also pull up long-term interest rates. This could steepen the yield curve, or at least displace it upwards. All other things being equal, bank shares would benefit and their poor performance of the last few weeks would turn around. Even though higher interest rates would penalize a certain number of sensitive sectors, the breath of fresh air for the banking sector would restore some appetite for risk which has recently been lacking.
More realistically, i.e. with an economy well into the expansion phase, there is little chance this series of events would last. It is not even sure they would have the time to develop in the first place, despite some indications to the contrary over the past few days.
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The aggressive protectionist measures announced by the US president over the past few days have generally been perceived as a prime inflationary threat. The reasoning is rather logical. An increase in import tariffs on non-substitutable goods that enter the production processes of key economic sectors or are purchased directly by US consumers will cause the price of those goods to rise. In addition, (i) the US balance of payments is likely to deteriorate and push down the dollar, and this might be exacerbated by potential difficulties in external financing, and (ii) the rest of the world might retaliate against the announced US measures, creating a domino effect. In theory, this combination is the perfect inflationary cocktail. How then can we explain that the markets have not shown greater expectations of inflation?
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This week’s figures from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) seem to have stopped traders speculating on rising prices in an overheating oil market. Lower inventories, higher production and lower US imports raised doubts about whether the current oil price is fair, after market euphoria in the last few months took it from $46 per barrel on average in June to over $71 on 25 January. The price of Brent North Sea crude, which had been wavering since the previous weekly report, gave way after Wednesday’s figures and seemed on track to end the week below $64.
Bond yields have barely responded to the move so far. However, that may not last if, as we expect, oil prices keep falling and drag metals down with them, since the rise in metals prices in the last few months has little fundamental justification.
If our scenario proves correct, that would seriously change the context, affecting inflation expectations, bond yields, the forex market and the relative performance of emerging markets and individual sectors. Overall, there is a significant risk that developments seen in the last few weeks will reverse as quickly as they occurred.
Although such adjustments could reduce the downward pressure on indexes resulting from fears that interest rates will rise too quickly, they would definitively rule out the reflation scenario that the markets have been overwhelmingly backing since mid-December. In the best-case scenario, this could stall the correction, without necessarily pushing markets back up to their recent highs.
English translation by trafine