Squeeze Moves From Hong Kong Dollar to Rates

(Bloomberg) -- The Hong Kong dollar’s surge reverberated across the city’s money market on Monday, with interbank rates climbing by the most since the global financial crisis a decade ago.

Both moves are underpinned by the same phenomenon: liquidity finally drying up. That’s pushing Hong Kong borrowing costs up toward the U.S. rates they’re supposed to track.

An expected hike in the so-called prime rate, which caps the cost of some mortgages; rising deposit rates; and an imminent increase in U.S. borrowing costs all suggest conditions will tighten further. That’s likely to support the Hong Kong dollar, which until recently had fallen to the weak end of a trading band, and undermine the world’s least-affordable housing market.

"It’s a warning shot" to Hong Kong’s overpriced assets, said Cliff Tan, Hong Kong-based East Asia head of global markets research at MUFG Bank Ltd. "I expect interbank liquidity to be even tighter and bank funding needs to be more pressing, hence higher money market rates and higher mortgage rates."

Here are four charts to show Hong Kong dollar’s funding costs are spiking:

Squeeze Moves From Hong Kong Dollar to Rates

One-month interbank borrowing costs, known as Hibor, surged the most in nearly a decade Monday, as liquidity tightened amid bets local banks will increase the prime rate for the first time since 2006. That came as the Hong Kong Economic Times reported eight of the city’s lenders including HSBC Holdings Plc and China CITIC Bank International Ltd. raised time deposit rates last week.

Seasonal factors may also be driving the currency’s funding costs higher, with banks hoarding cash for quarter-end regulatory checks and upcoming holidays tomorrow and Oct. 1. That means the rates may ease next month once the temporary shortage is relieved, said Alan Yip, senior foreign currency market strategist at Bank of East Asia Ltd.

Squeeze Moves From Hong Kong Dollar to Rates

Liquidity has also tightened in the foreign-exchange market, with the Hong Kong dollar’s one-week forward points touching the highest level since October 2007 on Monday.

Squeeze Moves From Hong Kong Dollar to Rates

The gap between Hong Kong banks’ prime rate and the Fed funds rate has narrowed to around 300 basis points, close to the lowest in a decade. A tighter spread suggests the chance of an increase in the prime rate is "quite high," which may narrow the gap between Hibor and the equivalent U.S. rate, Societe Generale SA strategists led by Jason Daw wrote in a note on Monday.

Squeeze Moves From Hong Kong Dollar to Rates

The aggregate balance, or the interbank liquidity pool of the Hong Kong dollar, has dwindled since April, as the city’s monetary authority removed cash to defend the currency’s peg on the greenback. The already-tighter cash supply has made funding costs more sensitive to holidays and quarter-end checks.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.