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Monday, 20 February 2012 08:11

Asia Session: More Fuel For The Risk-On Rally

Optimism regarding the delivery of a second bail-out package for Greece, China's RRR cut and conditional support from Tokyo and Beijing for the IMF helped boost investor sentiment in Asia, lifting risk assets across the board.

China's central bank has delivered a long-awaited cut to the amount of money banks are required to hold as reserves. The bank announced it will be lowering the reserve ratio by 50bps from February 24, bringing the ratio down to 20.5% for the country's largest banks. What does this mean for the domestic economy? It is anticipated that this move will free-up around USD64 billion for new lending, which the central bank hopes will stimulate domestic demand.

However, there is some disagreement between economists as to what the reduction in the RRR means for policy going forward. Some analysts are arguing that with inflation still at stubbornly high levels, the central bank will not risk more cuts pushing it even higher. Yet, we are of the opinion Beijing has made it clear it has shifted focus away from controlling inflation and towards managing the country's growth slowdown. Furthermore, China still has relatively tight control on inflation despite the cuts to the RRR, especially in regard to property prices, and January's spike in inflation should dissipate in coming months as the effects of the holiday period wear off. Accordingly, we are expecting more new loans and around 2/3 more cuts over an extended period of time.

The announcement from Beijing was good news for commodity economies like Australia who rely heavily on China as a source of demand. AUD/USD shot above 1.0800 in the first half of the session, reaching a high of around 1.0816, before retracing some of these early gains.

China and Japan have expressed conditional support for an expansion of the IMF's resources to help combat the European debt crisis. Both countries want the Eurozone to lift the current EUR500 billion cap on the regions rescue funds, which Germany has been firmly against. Nonetheless, given the fact the biggest contributor to the IMF, the US, has stated that it will not be adding more funds, Germany might have to change its position if the Eurozone wants support from outside Europe.

In other news, Japan posted a record high trade deficit, with the official figure putting the deficit at JPY1,475 billion. The trade balance was hit from all sides; exports were hit hard by a high yen and weak levels of international demand, and imports surged 9.8% as purchases of liquefied natural gas shot up by 74.3%. Looking forward, given the uncertainty surrounding global demand and the high yen we expect this deficit trend to continue this year.

In Europe, investor focus will be on a much anticipated meeting between Eurozone finance ministers, where expectations are running high for a positive resolution to talks on Greece's second bail-out. Germany's Finance Minister Schaeuble seems to think that an all-inclusive solution will emerge from the meeting, as opposed to a piecemeal step-by-step approval process that could drag on for several weeks. However, Eurogroup Chair Juncker warned that a lot of negotiation is still needed before a full agreement can be reached.

Recent price action suggests investors are pricing in a positive outcome for Greek bail-out discussions, thus if talks do not progress tonight we could see market sentiment turn quickly. But the action in markets of late also suggests traders are fairly patient when it comes to a final resolution to the situation in Greece, which means that as long as some progress is made risk sentiment may escape relatively unscathed.

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