April 2018 is probably the best month to have a non-G3(+China) central bank meeting because no one would be paying much attention to you in such times of market upheaval amidst geopolitical uncertainties.
The lucky stars are shining on the MAS to have their semi-annual Spring policy meeting because the only people who really care are probably those who have to write as if their jobs and livelihoods depended on it.
Thus we have decided Not to write about the upcoming April MPS because it really should be ignored but we will write about everything else that is happening around the MPS as we reel after reading yet another mind warping report, fully loaded with facts and charts, telling us that, under no uncertain terms, interest rates will Fall after the MAS Tightens monetary policy.
It basically tells people who are Not Smart Enough to stay away from Singapore interest rate markets unless they are Smart Enough to grasp the concept of Singapore’s version of monetary-policy-without-interest-rates.
We have long given up, blushed and deferred when asked to explain the monetary policy to anyone who does not understand it yet, just as we have given up and boycotted Watsons stores for the past year since continually triggering the store alarm every time we leave which has been a traumatic experience.
You Can’t Miss the Boat with the SGD Dollar
The good days are over for the SGD because the speculators came, saw, conquered and left, The years between 2008-2013 have been spectacularly profitable for buyers of the SGD currency which gained between 5 to 44% against the rest of the field except for the Chinese Yuan (-6%) and Swiss Franc (-11%), Gold and Silver (non-currencies) excepted.
Graph of the MAS SGD Nominal Effective Exchange Rate against undisclosed basket 2008-2013
It was the simplest trades in those days for a foreign hedge fund, because the SGD monetary policy was on an ever-appreciating path with almost every policy decision to allow for the SGD to appreciate except for the rare April 2009 one-time depreciation in the heart of the crisis.
Summary Table of Monetary Policy Statements
Even now, the SGD dollar remains a steady play with potential prime minister candidate Chan saying Singapore’s Strong reserves signal strong Sing$.
What more assurances or guarantees do we need ?
Source : ST
We also note that the MAS has not mentioned much of the SGD dollar since late last year but everyone else has compiled nice reports on the matter with the majority expecting the MAS to return to a modest and gradual appreciation path in the SGD NEER from its current 0% stance in less than a fortnight’s time (between 6 – 13 April).
With the days of wild profits over, the market lost interest in the SGD dollar after the MAS adopted a zero appreciation stance since April 2016 with a caveat of “extended period” in Oct 2016 which meant no more free lunch, stamping out speculation.
Yet we should not ignore the irony in both “modest and gradual appreciation” and “zero appreciation”, because it also means No Loss Expected in a land with the 1 trillion dollar reserves.
And the SGD dollar has not failed its supporters in the past 2 years, delivering modest gains against the NEER basket despite the zero appreciation.
Behold the beauty of the SGD NEER chart below where we witnessed new record highs in the SGD NEER since April 2016, defying the zero appreciation policy stance.
MAS SGD Nominal Effective Exchange Rate 2008-2018
Why the Loss of Interest in the SGD ?
- As it is, the market has already priced in a return to a “modest and gradual appreciation” policy stance. Even if it does not happen this time, it will surely happen in October because the SGD dollar will never depreciate (except for those once-off times when the mid point was re-centred).
- Non-transparency. The monetary policy has long been an enigma for the marketplace and the SGD NEER basket and its weights are a closely guarded secret along with the timing of each reset, just as Singapore’s actual national reserves number will never been known (which is not really a problem, in our opinion).
It is thus, not really a surprise that MAS ranks behind most of her regional peers in the Dincer/Eichengreen Central Bank Transparency Index pictured below.
Source : Berkeley
We do not know much about the how the policy works, how SIBOR is derived and all that although we are sure it is predictable enough – always appreciating. We appreciate that well but it does make the SGD markets perhaps more unfathomable than others. Why do we need to be more transparent than that ?
- Global markets have changed and Singapore’s share has shrunk since China started opening up. China’s inclusion into the MSCI and various other global indices just makes the rest of the world more interesting for the big investors in this trillion-going-on-quadrillion world where Singapore is really deemed too small to be significant in major portfolios anymore, except as part of an ETF.
What People are Thinking Will Happen ?
We are probably alone the “not sure” camp of what MAS actually communicated in October last year although majority of the analysts are dead sure that they have dropped their forward guidance for zero-appreciation when they referred to their “extended period” wording in past tense !
We are not grammar experts or fortune tellers and do not have the luxury of private meetings with the central bank that justifies the high wages of those who do.
Those folks are saying that the expansionary budget of 2018, the massive spending plans for healthcare infrastructure, security and education, plus the need for sustained investment returns (largest contributor to Singapore’s revenues), along with the intact growth momentum, spending and inflation are all valid reasons for the MAS to tighten monetary policy.
We cannot fault any of that given that the markets have already run ahead and priced in the lower interest rates that would result from the tightening, judging by the 3 month Libor versus Sibor difference of nearly 1%, something we have not seen since the financial crisis of 2008.
Graph of the 3M Libor vs Sibor 2009-2018
Somehow it just feels like MAS has already tightened monetary policy.
What Else is Happening Out There ?
Nobody is really doing much out there.
The other 3 central banks of global consequence are mostly standing pat since the Fed began their hikes and in Asia, just Malaysia and South Korea have blinked to hike rates so far, Hong Kong exempted due to their USD peg.
Table of central banks and rate changes.
April may prove to be the first month Combined Central Bank Effort (QE) turns into deficit as the US Fed reduces bond-buying by another US$ 30 bio.
On the political front, Singapore is sandwiched between 2 regional elections – the Malaysian general elections before 24 August and the Indonesian regional elections on 27 June.
On the global front, we have erupting trade wars, wobbly stock markets, slowing growth and some crazy things happening in Libor.