Gee, what a boring year it has been for the bulk of investors with capital allocated to Japan. The Nikkei 225 is trading at roughly the same level it did back in the last week of JAN – as is the USD/JPY cross. Truly, Japanese financial markets have been as boring in the YTD as BoJ monetary policy statements have been since Governor Haruhiko Kuroda got his term started with a bang in APR of last year.
Judging by speculative net length in the futures and options markets, it remains our view that many international investors dog-piled into the “Abenomics Trade” (i.e. long Japanese equities/short the JPY) at the end of last year – likely in an attempt to chase what had been one of our 2013 “moneymaker” trades alongside our #RatesRising and #GrowthAccelerating (i.e. the outperformance of the domestic growth style factors) themes.
What hasn’t been so fortunate for investors is the -6.6% YTD decline in the Nikkei 225 or the +2.8% appreciation of the Japanese yen versus the US dollar. Moreover, the outlook from here remains undecided as ever as domestic factors conflict with globally interconnected risks.
This high-conviction directionless view is something we have been wrestling with since the end of JUN, when we detailed the economic puts and takes contributing to what we continue to see as a fiscal and, more importantly, monetary policy vacuum in Japan:
- JAPAN POLICY VACUUM PART II? (6/30): We lack conviction on the intermediate-term direction of the Abenomics Trade and we think investors should remain on the sidelines for now.
- REITERATING OUR RESEARCH VIEW ON JAPAN (7/15): We reiterate our call of not having a high-conviction call on Japan here amid a convoluted globally-interconnected monetary policy outlook.
In full disclosure, this view comes after recommending investors short and subsequently cover Japanese equities back in mid-FEB and late-MAY.
- MORE CONSOLIDATION ON THE WAY FOR THE ABENOMICS TRADE? (2/19): Long-term investors must prepare to defend their positions as shorter-term investors are forced to consolidate over the intermediate term.
- TIME TO COVER ABENOMICS SHORTS? (5/28): While dicey from a seasonal perspective (VIX/JPY mid-summer ramp?), investors should begin the process of covering their Abenomics shorts.
It’s worth noting that from MAY 28 through JUN 30 the Nikkei 225 appreciated +3.3% in the face of a +0.5% advance in the JPY/USD cross. Since then, however, the Nikkei 225 has traded flat (i.e. +0.3%) in the face of a -1.1% decline in the JPY/USD cross. That’s a good cover followed by an even better call to move to the sidelines amid a breakdown in the well-known inverse correlation supporting the Abenomics Trade.
If you ask us, we think that inverse correlation is breaking down due to one primary factor: market participants trying to decipher whether or not the recent strength in the US Dollar Index is a harbinger of good news (i.e. a Quad #1 or Quad #2 setup in the US) or a bad news (i.e. a Quad #3 setup in the Eurozone that facilitates a Quad #4 setup in the US as our domestic #Q3Slowing theme remains in play).
For those of you who would like more details regarding the aforementioned scenario analysis, please refer to the following presentations: REPLAY: 3Q14 MACRO INVESTMENT THEMES CALL (7/9) and VIDEO & SLIDE DECK: ARE YOU PREPARED FOR QUAD #4? (8/5).
Looking to factors specific to Japan, the 2Q GDP report was yet another nonevent in the context of forcing the BoJ’s hand. The release was in line with consensus expectations and those of the Japanese government, as confirmed by Economy Minister Akira Amari following the release, which had a muted impact on the otherwise-volatile Japanese equity market (it closed up +0.4% on the day).
- 2Q Real GDP: -6.8% QoQ SAAR from 6.1% prior
- YoY: -0.1% from 3% prior
- C: -2.7% YoY from 3.5% prior
- I-Residential: -1.9% YoY from 12.1% prior
- I-Commercial: 7.1% YoY from 11.6% prior
- G: 0.6% YoY from 0.7% prior
- X-M: 2.3% YoY from -38.6% prior
- 2Q GDP Deflator: 2% YoY from -0.1% prior
Importantly, LDP officials expect GDP to rebound in the third quarter (as do we), so there would appear to limited need for either fiscal or monetary policymakers to step in here to aid Japan’s recovery from the tax hike-induced weakness. It’s worth noting that the 3M trend in the preponderance of Japanese growth data is decidedly positive.
This is especially true for the BoJ; recall that while acting president of the Asian Development Bank, Kuroda was very critical of the piecemeal easing measures oft-implemented by his predecessor Masaaki Shirakawa. Rather, the current BoJ chief prefers the “big bang” stimulus – something that may not be necessary until reported inflation slows throughout 2H14, which is something our models are forecasting. That puts the timeline for an expansion of the BoJ’s QQE program in the 1H15 range.
All told, be it Yellen & Co. potentially preparing to devalue the USD (and thereby inflating the JPY) or #GrowthSlowing in the US and EU that perpetuates a meaningful reversal of #VolatilityAsymmetry, we think it’s best for investors to remain on the sidelines (i.e. not involved or a combination of low gross and tight net exposures) with respect to the Abenomics Trade.
Lastly, if you aren’t yet familiar with the debate surrounding the outlook for US monetary policy we’ve been trying to prepare investors for since JAN, we highly encourage you to review the following Reuters article: "Yellen Resolved to Avoid Raising Rates Too Soon; Fearing Downturn" (7/12).
Have a wonderful evening,
Associate: Macro Team