It is questionable how long the slight improvement in risk appetite at the beginning of this week lasts given the fickle nature of market sentiment at present and propensity for more disappointment. More than likely any relief will be short-lived given 1) there are still major concerns about fiscal/debt problems in Greece, Spain, Portugal, etc 2) the sharp decline in economic activity that various austerity plans will lead to and 3) rising social/labour unrest due to cuts in spending and hikes in taxes that need to be implemented.
Attention remains firmly fixed on Greece’s woes whilst global growth concerns have reappeared following some disappointing data releases in the US last week as well the decline in China’s manufacturing purchasing managers’ index (PMI) in February, released overnight, which although obscured by the timing of Chinese Lunar New Year holidays, suggests that China’s economy is losing some of its recent strong momentum.
Speculation of a rescue plan for Greece will likely give some support to the beleaguered EUR though it may only end up providing better levels to sell the currency. EU Monetary Affairs Commissioner Rehn is scheduled to meet with Greek Prime Minister Papandreou today against the background of talks about the possibility of EUR 25 billion in aid to Greece using state owned lenders to buy Greek debt. Any aid will likely come with demands for more action to reduce Greece’s yawning budget deficit which will fuel further weakness in economic activity.
A key test of sentiment towards Greece’s austerity plans will be the market reception to an upcoming sale of as much as EUR 5 billion in 10-year Greek bonds. Given the reassurances given by the EU the sale of bonds will likely not be too problematic. As an indication, Greek 10-year bond yields dropped sharply on Friday as sentiment improved.
The bounce in Greek debt was accompanied by a firmer EUR/USD which rebounded to a high of around 1.3667 as markets covered short positions. It’s probably way too early to suggest that the EUR has began a sustainable rally however, and more likely it has settled into a new range, with support around the 2010 low of 1.3444. The latest CFTC Commitment of Traders’ (IMM) data revealed a further increase in net short EUR positioning to a new record low in the week to 23rd February. This highlights both the weight of pessimism on the currency as well as significant potential to rebound.
Conversely, the IMM data reveals that net USD positions are at their highest in almost a year and well above their three-month average, suggesting that USD positioning is looking a bit stretched though its worth noting that positioning is still well off its record high. Nonetheless, with a bailout for Greece in the offing, risk appetite could gain a stronger foothold this week, in turn keeping the USD capped.
As for the EUR, although a lot of bad news is in the price, for the currency to rebound on a sustainable basis it will require fiscal/growth worries to recede. Despite talk of Greek aid, there is a long way to go before Europe’s fiscal/debt problems are resolved.