Pound tops buy list for year that may bare ‘sleeping volcanoes’

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(Dec 7): What was considered best avoided in European currencies and bonds a year ago is just what’s topping 2018’s hottest picks.

The pound and the euro, which analysts shunned at the end of 2016 predicting doomsday scenarios, are the very thing they are recommending for next year. As for bonds, well, good luck if you own them since they reckon yields will climb as major central banks begin to end monetary stimulus.

“As the post-financial crisis policy architecture — which boosted asset prices and anchored bond yields, credit spreads and volatility — is unwound, investors need to choose between holding on to carry, which may be all they have left, and finding a safe place to hide,” Kit Juckes, a strategist at Societe Generale SA in London, wrote in a note to clients. “Beware of sleeping volcanoes.”

Here are some of the top trade recommendations and views for 2018:

Buy pound

Brexit still seems to throw up more questions than answers, but one thing most analysts seem to agree on is that the pound is likely to strengthen next year. That view is mostly pegged to the conviction that the UK will achieve a transitional arrangement with the European Union before the country leaves the bloc in March 2019.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s preferred trade is to buy sterling versus an “overvalued” Swiss franc while ING Groep NV sees the British currency reaching US$1.40 next year, a call an increasing number of strategists are shifting toward, and then rising further toward US$1.50 by end-2018.

Sterling “has suffered since the Brexit vote, but a lot of bad news is already in the price,” ING strategists led by Chris Turner wrote in a note to clients. An agreed deal “will be the antidote to the pound’s uncertainty-driven weakness, triggering a positive reappraisal of the UK economic outlook and a hawkish re-pricing of Bank of England policy expectations.”

Analyst recommendations on the pound include:

* ING suggests buying 4-month GBP/USD call spread (buy 4-month call with 1.3800 strike, sell 4-month call with strike 1.4100); cost 0.52% (spot reference 1.3472); maximum potential return 2.2%, cost:return ratio 1:4.2
* BofAML recommends buying 6-month 1.40/1.45 GBP/CHF call spread; spot reference 1.31; cost of 21.915 GBP pips

Euro still has legs

The euro is the best Group-of-10 performer of 2017, confounding many who had predicted that this year’s events could presage the common currency’s demise. Goldman Sachs Group Inc, Morgan Stanley, Societe Generale SA and ING still remain bullish as the European Central Bank unwinds stimulus and the continent’s growth outlook continues to improve.

“FX reserve managers have not started to cover their substantial euro underweight” positions, Goldman Sachs strategists led by Francesco Garzarelli, who recommend a long position in the single currency versus the yen as a way to work around a flat dollar, wrote in a note. “Continued inflows into euro-area assets should support the euro, even as interest rates remain low.”

Societe Generale sees the common currency benefiting from a potential increase in bund yields next year, while Morgan Stanley expects it to strengthen versus the Swiss franc.

Key recommendations:

* Morgan Stanley entered position versus Swiss Franc at 1.16 with 1.28 target, at which point they’ll reassess the trade
* ING has similar trade on with a target of 1.25, saying the pair could “easily push above 1.20” into the year-end
* Entry level: Buy 50% of notional at EUR/CHF 1.1640, 50% of notional EUR/CHF at 1.1540. Target 1.2500; stop-loss 1.1370; target return 7.8%
* SocGen forecasts EUR/USD at 1.25 and EUR/GBP at 0.97 by September 2018
* Goldman Sachs targets EUR/JPY at 140 with stop at 130

Watch out for Italy

With this year’s French and Dutch elections passing without political upsets, the risk is that investors may grow complacent about region’s next political worry: Italy. The country has elections due before May, with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement currently leading in some polls. Credit Agricole SA, Citigroup Inc and JPMorgan Chase & Co are recommending bearish positions in Italian bonds into the new year.

“We continue to believe it will be the Italian election that has the potential to generate more in terms of spread turbulence,” Citigroup strategists Jamie Searle and Aman Bansal wrote in a note to clients. “We therefore enter 2018 with a bearish view on BTPs.”

Key trades:

* Credit Agricole recommends selling BTP 3.25% 09/2046 against SPGB 2.9% 10/2046 for a give-up of 20bps; target 40bps, stop-loss 10bps
* Also, sell BTP 5.5% 09/2022 against BTP 3.75% 03/2021 and 4.75% 08/2023 wings at 18bps; target 30bps, stop-loss 11bps
* JPMorgan proposes a short position in the 30y sector vs Spain and adds a short in 20y vs Portugal

Bunds trumped by Treasuries

For almost all banks, 2018 is the year that will see bond yields move higher. French debt will likely face supply headwinds, while the removal of ECB purchases will begin to weigh on German bunds. JPMorgan recommends outright short positions in the 10- and 30-year tenors on Europe’s safest securities. Credit Suisse sees bunds as one of the biggest losers with 10-year yields rising to 1 percent from 0.29 percent currently, while Morgan Stanley and Credit Agricole recommend selling German debt versus US Treasuries.

“We particularly see upside risks to bund yields,” Credit Suisse strategists led by Andrew Garthwaite wrote. “We can see yields ending 2018 close to 1 percent given the strength of European growth, overly conservative ECB rate expectations, the end of QE in September 2018 and some signs that inflation is being underestimated.”

Key trades:

* JPMorgan suggests opening short EU100mn bund 08/2048 at 1.156%. 3m carry: -1.8bps and 3m slide: 0.3bp
* Keep short EU100mn bund 08/2027 at 32.9bps. 3m carry: -3.5bps and 3m slide: -4bps. P&L since Oct. 13 inception: -11bps
* Credit Agricole recommends tightener in 10y bunds vs Treasuries entering at 200.2bps, with a target of 175bps; originally placed on Nov. 1
* Morgan Stanley has long 30-year Treasuries versus bunds as one of their top trades; enter at 163bps, target/reasess at 70bps

Portuguese exception

With a potential reentry into various key bond indexes in January, Portugal is the one that proves the rule. That depends on an upgrade to investment grade by Fitch Ratings later this month, marking the second of the big three ratings agencies to do so. Rabobank International, JPMorgan, and Credit Agricole remain bullish even after the country’s bonds notched up their eighth consecutive monthly gain in November.

There is “an apparent sea change of sentiment in Portugal — Portugal looking to finally be regaining peripheral status as it escapes the gravitational pull of the bailout era,” Rabobank strategists led by Richard McGuire wrote in a note to clients, predicting the yield spread over Germany to narrow by as much as 40 basis points from around 158 basis points. “Portuguese bonds should outperform both Italian and Spanish peers.”

Key trades:

* Credit Agricole recommends buying OT 3.875% 02/2030 versus BTP 3.5% 03/2030 for a 36bps yield pickup, target a move to 10bps; stop-loss 50bps
* Similarly, JPMorgan suggests opening long 20y versus Italy; EU25m OT 04/2037 vs short EU23.9m BTP 02/2037 at 43bps. 3m carry: 0.5bp and 3m slide: 0bp