The New Year In Business

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With the current global economic slow-down, traders are advised not to overestimate the Fed tightening cycle as with when most of traders and investors overestimated the first Fed Fund Rate hike and the ECB’s decisions throughout the year. If the economy keeps slowing down further, then 2016 may hold something contrary to market estimates. IMAGE COURTESY WRITER

Currencies and central bank decisions may shape the year ahead

BY Nour E. Al-Hammoury

Looking back at 2015, it’s clear that it’s been one for the history books—for several reasons.

Stand-out factors include the release of long-unseen economic data, dwindling oil prices and a sovereign economy that was tested and found wanting, as Greece defaulted on its debt. This made it the first time in history that an advanced economy had ever defaulted on the repayment of its debt obligations.

Taking all these events into consideration, and moving forward into 2016, it’s important to look at the certain sectors that will impact how markets, forex and oil would trade.

Low Oil Prices To Persist in 2016, U.S. Lenders Hit

Oil was the most notable player in 2015, as crude oil prices crashed on the back of many factors, including an over-supplied market amid a slowing global economy.

Of course, fears of an additional supply from Iran have also had a negative impact on oil prices over the past year. The supply ought to hit the market in 2016—once the sanctions are lifted— and there is still no agreement among Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) members to cut their production. That uncertainty doesn’t help.

These factors have caused a sharp decline in prices, with WTI and Brent Crude prices dropping by over 50 percent in a matter of a few months.

The new year, 2016, does not seem promising either, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and OPEC. Oil prices are expected to remain low over the coming months. Current crude prices are below the level reached during the 2008/9 financial crises. In fact, oil prices have plummeted to their lowest level since 2004, which raises a huge red flag with regard to its impact on the global economy.

Meanwhile, following the sharp decline in oil prices, a large number of shale companies came under pressure after producing crude at a loss, and subsequently were forced to shutdown. This has caused concern regarding the future of the industry. However, what everyone should be worried about are the banks—and not bankrupt shale companies.

In the past few years, U.S. banks have financed the shale oil sector to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars. This was done in the belief that shale had future potential. And although companies mightn’t go bankrupt over this, questions remain. Who are the banks to have financed these projects? How big are they? And will they be able to sustain such losses?

The U.S. Bond Market is also at a very high risk moving forward, especially after the Federal Reserve hiked rates in December. Why? Because most high-yield bonds fall under the energy sector. They are already near default territory. Raising rates by the Fed will put further pressure on these bonds. High-yield bonds have been declining sharply in the past few weeks, so lower oil prices can cause a domino effect. As a result, this constitutes a ticking bomb in the U.S. bond market, which should be monitored closely in 2016.

The question for 2016 remains the same as last year: For how long can energy companies survive? Only time will tell, although I am sure that the year 2016 will see many acquisitions and mergers between global companies in order to ease pressures.

Despite all the fears regarding an oil price slump, there are still clear factors that no one should forget about. There is no replacement for oil; as green energy is still not ready to replace hydro-carbon products, at least for the next decade. Another business shaper that we should be keeping an eye on are the decisions that emanate from the central banks of the world’s strongest economies. These financial institutions’ decisions will impact not just markets and forex trading in 2016, but also sovereign fiscal policies.

Central Banks Across the Globe

The ECB in December decided to extend its Quantitative Easing, (QE), program worth 60 billion euros, from September 2016, until March 2017.

But this move was less than market expectations, which led the Euro to recover above 1.1 in December after declining towards 1.04 level in November.

The Euro also disappointed investors and bear traders who were betting on the parity between the Euro and the greenback. However, I have to say that there are signs of improvement in the European economies in 2016. Business conditions, inflation, growth and even the labor market look encouraging. Therefore, 2016 might be the year of stabilization in the Eurozone after a few years of coping with a debt crisis.

Meanwhile in the U.S., markets feared the Federal Reserve’s tightening cycle, which has led to large outflows especially from emerging markets.

The Fed was eventually forced to raise the rate on December 16, despite the fact that U.S. economic growth remained way below the Fed’s target, with inflation staying very low and business conditions weakening.

In the meantime, the Fed has switched back to being data dependent. This means that the tightening cycle will be very gradual and will be based on future economic development. However, the risk here comes from inflation, which remains low at a time when oil prices remain under pressure.

With the current global economic slow-down, traders are advised not to overestimate the Fed tightening cycle as with when most of traders and investors overestimated the first Fed Fund Rate hike and the ECB’s decisions throughout the year. If the economy keeps slowing down further, then 2016 may hold something contrary to market estimates.

On the other side of the globe, the Bank of Japan, (BoJ), kept its policy on hold throughout 2015 with no significant changes. This is the first time that BoJ has not fine-tuned its policy for one year in over a decade.

However, the Japanese Yen got slightly weaker throughout the year, and remained within a tight range of 118.0 and 125.0.

Recently, some encouraging data came out from Japan, especially in the last quarter of 2015, which may grant that the economy will exit its contraction mode.

Therefore, I believe that the Japanese yen will be one of the few safe haven investments in 2016—traders should indeed consider the yen as an option.

Moreover, I believe that BoJ will keep its current policy unchanged, at least until the end of the first quarter of 2016. In return, the yen may be the star of 2016.

In Europe, the Bank of England, (BoE), had promised the world that it would raise rates as the Fed had done in 2015.

But the BOE has decided to be bullish with markets, saying that a rate hike will be delayed until late 2016 and might happen early 2017.

Moving forward, 2016 holds a lot of challenges for the U.K., especially with the risk of the so called Brexit—exiting the European union, declining oil prices and the slowing down in the global economy. BoE might not be forced to start its tightening cycle anytime soon. But let’s not forget that inflation is always a challenge.

Leave It To the Chinese

The People’s Bank of China, (PBoC), devalued the Chinese Yuan many times in 2015, pressuring the Federal Reserve not to raise rates. However, the Fed decided to start its tightening cycle late this year. In return, the PBoC weakened the Chinese Yuan to its lowest level since 2011 at 6.54.

PBoC intervened many times this in 2015 as the growth kept on slowing down, reaching as low as 6.9 percent which is the lowest growth rate in China since 2009. However, I consider this as a very healthy slowing down. China has been pushing the global economy on its back since the financial crisis, while the rest of the world was contracting. Moreover, despite all the talks regarding the fear from the Chinese slow-ing down, the IMF announced the Chinese Yuan as the third strongest reserve currency in the world. In December, the IMF included the Chinese Yuan in the SDR basket with a weight of more than 11 percent. The Japanese Yen and the British Pound are now at the bottom of the SDR basket.

In 2016, China is expected to remain a good potential, especially with the current reforms by the government over one trillion dollar is expected to enter the Chinese market over the next five years.

On a related note, foreign exchange, (Forex), movement is a third business trend that investors will be monitoring in the coming months. A weaker currency would signal a boost in trade for the currency’s country, however a persisting weakened currency would have a negative effect on the said country’s economy on the med-to-long term.

Forex Trading in 2016: EUR/USD

Technically, the Euro remain bearish in the mid-term as far as this peak holds. Looking at momentum indicators, the Euro is clearly oversold in the quarterly chart (Figure 1). Consequently, I expect prices to trade sideways to lower and to stay in a range between 1.0640 in the downside and 1.1080 in the upside.

1.1255-1.1430 levels represent the selling zone for med-term investors, and should play as a strong barrier for the single currency. On the other side, a monthly close above 1.1710 is likely to clear the way for a larger correction to the upside.

GBP/USD

The British pound fell sharply during the beginning of the year to reach as low as 1.4565 level before bouncing back in April (Figure 2).

For the next quarter, I expect the pair to keep trading lower towards 1.4600 mark and only a monthly close above 1.5660 will weaken this bearish view.

USD/JPY (Yen)

It is expected that the pair keep trading in a neutral way during the beginning of 2016 (Figure 3). I maintain the bullish outlook in the med-term and see two scenarios for 2016: The pair can trade lower towards 119.98-119.08 zone before the bullish trend re-sume and prices target 2015 peak again.

The less expected scenario is to see the pair breaking black Monday lows at 116.18, which may clear the way for an acceleration towards 115.55-113.10 before to see buyers again.

However, I remain bullish on this pair and look to buy USD/JPY on dips around 119.98-119.08 primarily, or between 155.55-113.10 levels at a larger scale, looking for a re-test of 2015 highs at 125.85, while a break above this resistance will trigger a new rally towards 128.00 level in the coming months.

EUR/JPY

I maintain my bearish outlook for this pair and believe that a re-test of 126.00 lows is likely to be seen in 2016 as far as 141.00 peak holds (Figure 4).

For the first quarter of 2016, I expect the upside potential to be limited below 135.25-136.60 zone and consequently the pair should head south in the next months.

A break below the 126.00 level should be catastrophic for bulls and is likely to open a new extension lower.

On the flip-side, a monthly close above 136.60 level will weaken this bearish outlook.

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