Monday, January 19, 2015

France's Hollande Claims QE Announcement on Thursday

In a bit of political daring-do, French President François Hollande stated today that the European Central Bank (ECB) will announce a Quantitative Easing (QE) policy when it meets on Thursday.  Given the ECB's strong resistance to political pressure, it's surprising to hear that Hollande is predicting the outcome of Thursday's meeting.  Speaking to business leaders at the Élysée Palace, Hollande said, "On Thursday, the ECB will take the decision to buy sovereign debt, which will provide significant liquidity to the European economy and create a movement that is favorable to growth."  The Stoxx Europe 600 soared to a 7-year high on the prospect.

This is a bit of a dangerous tightrope being walked by President Hollande, and given the number of false starts in the ECB QE saga, he is apparently doing it without a net.  His comments came as a surprise to analysts despite widespread belief that the ECB will indeed take action this week.  That action is already built into the bond market, in fact, which means a failure to act will result in some wild price action, especially now that Hollande has upped the ante by upstaging Draghi.

The question here, though, is what it means for the US markets.  When Japan introduced their flavor of QE, that increased liquidity flowed right out of Japan and into the much stronger US and European markets.  Similarly, when the US introduced QE, that money flowed out of the States and into emerging markets that were viewed as the stronger growth play at the time.  It's reasonable, therefore, to assume that the US stocks and bonds markets will benefit from that increase in European liquidity. 

There's no question that US bonds are a more attractive, more stable, and safer investment in the fixed-income space.  The equity side, though, will benefit from the perceived strength of the US economy, rising in stark contrast to a European economy in a deflationary spiral on the brink of recession.  The US Dollar will strengthen even further as a result of this move, however, and that will place added pressure on US equities that have significant exposure to Europe - meaning a large portion of the S&P 500.  Short term, of course, there's likely to be excitement and buying pressure in US equities, even if that rise is short term over-exuberance.

At the very least, thanks to Hollande's comments, if Draghi's announcement on Thursday wasn't already the most anticipated economic release of the week, it has certainly vaulted onto that stage now.  I suspect the news will at least take some of the downward pressure coming out of Europe off the table, at least through the early part of the week.  Whether or not the "buy on rumor; sell on news" adage manifests, though, will be one to watch.  After all the anticipation, it's possible that Draghi's press statements on Thursday will be anti-climatic.  The market expects the QE package to include €500 billion to €600 billion of sovereign bonds, and another €400 billion in private assets.  Failure to deliver on that expectation will almost certainly be punished in the US, UK, and European markets.

The ECB will announce their interest rates decision Thursday at 12:45 GMT (7:45 EST) and the much anticipated ECB Monetary Policy Statement and Press Conference follows at 13:30 GMT (8:30 EST).  With the US markets opening an hour after that press conference starts, expect much of the morning's trading to be dominated by reaction to Draghi's comments. 

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