Losing Your Addiction

An interesting thing happened to me last week. On a business trip to Europe my blackberry broke and failed to work for the rest of the week. I felt like an addict coming off an addiction. The first couple of days were very tough; my usual instinct to constantly check for messages resulted in constant fidgeting and major withdrawal symptoms.

Once this had worn off I must admit I felt liberated. My addiction gone, it felt great to be weaned off my crackberry. The message here is that life goes on without access to mail. It’s an experience I would recommend to all users of such devices.

Back to reality and my view from Hong Kong this week is as follows. The risk-off tone as reflected in related to the turmoil in Libya and the increase in oil prices (as supply concerns intensify), may help to limit the pressure on the USD this week, but the overall tone is set to remain weak.

Much will depend on this week’s key US data releases and a testimony by Fed Chairman Bernanke to the US Senate, to determine whether the USD will find a more stable footing. Clearly the more hawkish tone of the European Central Bank (ECB) and Bank of England (BoE) in contrast to the lack of inclination by the Fed towards a tighter monetary policy stance could undermine the USD.

In this respect, it is doubtful that Bernanke will change his stance of the Fed failing to meet its dual mandate due to too low inflation. The main event is the February US jobs report at the tail end of the week. The consensus expectation of a 190k increase in payrolls will be finalised after gaining more clues from the US February ISM surveys and ADP jobs report earlier in the week. The week’s releases will likely reveal further improvements in US economic data, but given that this will do little to budge the Fed’s stance, the USD may be left somewhat underwhelmed.

The intensification in risk aversion over recent days has also been felt in the Eurozone periphery where bond market pressures have resumed. Nonetheless, the fallout on the EUR has been limited by hawkish ECB jawboning. Thursday’s ECB meeting will surely maintain this stance, and following the release of data on Tuesday likely to show a further increase in inflation in February, upside inflation risks are likely to be highlighted by ECB President Trichet in the press conference.

A likely pre-emptive strike from the ECB cannot be ruled out. Two rate hikes in H2 2011 are now likely even as the Bank maintains liquidity support for weaker peripherals. No change in policy but a hawkish press statement on Thursday will on the face of it play for a firmer EUR but i) the fact that the market has already discounted the possibility of early rate hikes and ii) the proximity of the US payrolls data on Friday and iii) uncertainty over the impact of the Irish election outcome in which the Fine Gael party won a clear victory, suggest that EUR risks are asymmetric. The net long positioning overhang also points to some downside risks to EUR.

There are plenty of other events and data on the calendar this week including Japan’s slate of month end releases, interest rate decisions by the Reserve Bank of Australia and Bank of Canada, UK PMI manufacturing survey data and Swedish Q4 GDP data.

The bottom line is that currencies will be driven by the conflicting influences of improving economic data on the one hand and elevated risk aversion on the other. The main beneficiaries of higher risk aversion will be the CHF and JPY though both have risen far whilst the USD will be restrained by a dovish Fed.

In contrast the EUR and GBP may yet extend gains but in both cases, markets have already shifted policy tightening expectations sharply over recent weeks and we suspect EUR/USD will be capped at resistance around 1.3860, whilst GBP/USD will similarly struggle to break its year high around 1.6279.

The Week Ahead

Housing and durable goods orders data will form the highlights of the US calendar this week. Speeches from several Fed speakers will also give some further guidance to the appetite for completing the Fed’s $600 billion in asset purchases. Overall it will be a slow start for FX markets with liquidity thinned by the Presidents Day holiday and as a result currencies are likely to remain in relatively tight ranges. The heavy tone of the USD seen last week is likely to persist over coming days given the absence of driving factors. Even the unrest in the Middle East has been unable to derail the improving trend in risk appetite, another factor dampening USD sentiment.

The EUR held up well last week recouping its early week losses to end on a firm note. The ability of the EUR to shake off various bits of bad news was impressive but whether it can continue to do so is debatable. Data releases are unlikely to provide much of a boost. Whilst eurozone business surveys set to remain at high levels, consistent with a rebound in Q1 GDP growth, further improvements are unlikely. The week kicks off with the February German IFO business confidence survey but at best this will reveal stable reading. The EUR may find some support from signs of higher and in Germany and an above consensus reading for M3 money supply growth though this is not usually a market mover. The data will likely feed nervousness about European Central Bank (ECB) tightening. Ireland could rock the boat however, with general elections likely to keep markets nervous about potential renegotiations of Ireland’s bailout terms.

Although deflationary pressures are easing in Japan there is a long way before the spectre of inflation will emerge. Nonetheless, the Bank of Japan (BoJ) revised up its growth outlook last week, suggesting that the likelihood of more aggressive measures to combat deflation is narrowing. A reminder of ongoing deflation will come with the release of January CPI data this week whilst trade data will be watched to determine what impact the strength of the JPY is having on exports. Both EUR/JPY and USD/JPY are close to the top of their recent ranges and the data are unlikely to provoke a break higher. USD/JPY will likely remain capped around 84.51 whilst EUR/JPY will find tough resistance around 114.02.

GBP performed even better than the EUR last week helped by an even more hawkish sounding than usual BoE Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) member Sentance and a letter from the BoE governor hinting at rate hikes. Even a relatively more slightly dovish Quarterly Inflation Report failed to halt GBP’s ascent. Further direction will come from the February MPC minutes in which we expect to see two dissenters, namely Sentence and Weale who likely voted for a rate hike. However, there is a risk that they may have been joined by at least one other, with speculation that MPC member Bean may have joined the dissenters. Such speculation alongside the jump in January UK retail sales at the end of last week will likely add to more upside potential for GBP, setting it up for another gain this week. Its upward momentum may however, be hampered by the large net long GBP positioning overhang.

Yuan to Rise 4.5% in 2011: FX Strategist

USD Pressured As Yields Dip

The USD came under pressure despite a higher than forecast reading for January US CPI and a strong jump in the February Philly Fed manufacturing survey. On the flip side, an increase in weekly jobless claims dented sentiment. The overnight rally in US Treasury yields was a factor likely weighing on the USD. The US calendar is light today leaving markets to focus on the G20 meeting and to ponder next week’s releases including durable goods orders, existing and new home sales.

The jump in the European Central Bank (ECB) marginal facility borrowing to EUR 15 billion, its highest since June 2009, provoked some jitters about potential problems in one or more eurozone banks. At a time when there are already plenty of nerves surrounding the fate of WestLB and news that Moody’s is reviewing another German bank for possible downgrade, this adds to an already nervous environment for the EUR.

Nonetheless, EUR/USD appears to be fighting off such concerns, with strong buying interest on dips around 1.3550. The G20 meeting under France’s presidency is unlikely to have any direct impact on the EUR or other currencies for that matter, with a G20 source stating that the usual statement about “excess volatility and disorderly movements in FX” will be omitted.

Although USD/JPY has been a highly sensitive currency pair to differentials between 2-year US and Japanese bonds (JGBs), this sensitivity has all but collapsed over recent weeks. USD/JPY failed to break the 84.00 level, coming close this week. There appears to be little scope to break the current range ahead of next week’s trade data and CPI.

Given the recent loss in momentum of Japan’s exports the data will be instructive on how damaging the strength of the JPY on the economy. In the near term, escalating tensions in the Middle East will likely keep the JPY supported, with support around USD/JPY 83.09 on the cards.

It seems that the jump in UK CPI this week (to 4.0%) provoked even more hawkish comments than usual from the Bank of England BoE’s Sentance, with the MPC member stating that the Quarterly Inflation Report understates the upside risks to inflation indicating that interest rates need to rise more quickly and by more than expected. Specifically on GBP he warned that the Bank should not be relaxed about its value.

Although these comments should not be particularly surprising from a known hawk, they may just help to underpin GBP ahead of the January retail sales report. Expectations for a rebound in sales following a weather related drop in the previous month will likely help prop up GBP, with GBP/USD resistance seen around 1.6279.

GBP troubles, KRW too weak

The Fed FOMC minutes for the January meeting revealed that behind the unanimous vote to leave policy settings unchanged there was some unease about the completion of QE2. Nonetheless, the USD was left weaker given the Fed’s sanguine view on inflation and worries about unemployment. Inflation data will garner most market attention today but the fact that the core rate of CPI inflation is expected to remain well below the Fed’s preferred level could undermine the USD and add a further barrier to the USD’s recovery so far in February. Jobless claims data will also be of interest given the sharp drop last week. Another firm outcome will help to dispel worries about job market recovery.

As warned in my last post, downside risks to GBP were high given the long GBP speculative positioning overhang and hawkish expectations for the BoE Quarterly Inflation Report. In the event the Report revealed a downward growth forecast revision and an upward inflation forecast revision but importantly showed some reluctance to play into market expectations of an early UK policy rate hike. Following on from a weaker than expected UK January jobs report in which unemployment increased, GBP was hit on both counts. GBP/USD is unlikely to veer far from the 1.6000 level, but with markets reassessing interest rate expectations downside risks are beginning to open up.

News yesterday that Moody’s ratings agency has placed Australia and New Zealand’s major banks on review for possible downgrades went down like a lead balloon but once again AUD and NZD showed their usual resilience and acted as if little has happened. AUD and NZD have weakened since the turn of the year. Weaker data and a paring back in policy tightening expectations have contributed to the weaker performance of the AUD and NZD, but markets have gone too far in scaling back the timing and magnitude of interest rate hikes, suggesting that both currencies may bounce back as interest rate expectations become more hawkish.

Asian currencies continue to register mixed performances largely influenced by capital flows. Most equity markets in the region have registered outflows so far in 2011, with the exception of Taiwan and Vietnam. This has been reflected in Asian FX performance, with the strongest performer being the IDR, but its gains have only been around 0.72% versus USD, coinciding with the fact that it has registered some of the least capital outflows this year. Interestingly the worst performing currency has been the THB, one of last year’s star performers. Korea has also registered strong equity capital outflows but this will not persist and a resumption of inflows taken together with positive fundamentals and higher interest rates will boost the KRW this year.

FX Winners and Losers

There has been a sense of mean reversion in FX markets so far this year as some of last year’s winners have become losers. Namely NZD, CHF, JPY and AUD have all lost ground whilst EUR and GBP have gained ground. The odd one out is the SEK which has strengthened over 2010 and in 2011 versus USD. I expect this pattern to change and the likely winners over the next 3- months are NZD, AUD and CAD, with CHF and JPY the likely losers.

EUR held up reasonably well in the wake of slightly disappointing growth data, with eurozone GDP rising less than expected in Q4, and a smaller than expected gain in the February German ZEW investor confidence survey (economic sentiment component). My sense is that the net long EUR speculative position has already been pared back somewhat over recent days reducing the potential selling pressure on the currency in the near term.

Given that EUR/USD is one of the only major currency pairs being influenced by interest rate differentials, its direction will hinge more on policy expectations but in the near the announcement by the German Finance Minister this morning of a restructuring plan for WestLB may give the currency some support.

Perhaps one explanation for the stability of EUR/USD around the 1.3500 level is that US data was also disappointing yesterday. January retail sales rose less than forecast whilst revisions to back months suggest less momentum in Q4 consumer spending than previously envisaged. As with the eurozone data weather likely played a role in contributing to the outcome.

The net impact on currencies is that they are largely stuck within tight ranges. Further direction will come from the release of the Fed FOMC minutes for the January 26th meeting. The minutes may undermine the USD if a likely dovish slant continues to be expressed but given that the FOMC decision at that meeting to hold policy setting unchanged had no dissenters this should not come as a surprise.

Whilst the battle between the USD and EUR ended in a stalemate GBP outperformed in the wake of the increase in UK January CPI inflation and in particular the letter from the BoE governor to the Chancellor keeping open the door to a rate hike. The Quarterly Inflation Report (QIR) today will be particularly important to determine whether the bounce in GBP is justified.

I remain hesitant to build on long GBP positions given the net long speculative overhang in the currency. The risks following yesterday’s jump in GBP are asymmetric, with a hawkish QIR likely to have less impact on the currency than the negative impact from a more dovish than expected report.

Econometer.org has been nominated in FXstreet.com’s Forex Best Awards 2011 in the “Best Fundamental Analysis” category. The survey is available at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/fx_awards_2011

US Dollar Upside, Euro tensions

Following the famine that was last week this week will see a feast of data releases, which hopefully will give some clearer direction to currency markets. The key eurozone data focus for FX markets will be the German February ZEW survey and it should highlight that investor confidence is bouncing back smartly. This will be accompanied by data showing a slight acceleration in GDP in the eurozone in Q4 2010. Good news, but the reality is that the EUR is being driven more by peripheral bond tensions and relative yields.

Although the EUR may get a brief lift from the news of the resignation of Egypt’s President Mubarak this will likely prove temporary. Given that tensions are beginning to creep higher EUR/USD may struggle to make any headway this week and will more likely slip below 1.3500 for a test of 1.3440 as sentiment sours. Even the usual sovereign interest may look a little more reluctant to provide support this week. The net long positioning overhang as reflected in the CFTC IMM data suggests some scope for a squaring in long positions, likely accelerating any downside pressure.

As usual data releases are failing to have a major impact on the JPY whilst interest rate / yield differentials suggest the JPY should be much weaker. One explanation for the stubbornly strong JPY is the strength of recent portfolio inflows to Japan, especially into its bond markets. This could reverse quickly and IMM positioning suggests that the potential for a shakeout of long positioning looms large, something that many Japanese margin traders are well positioned for according to TFX data. USD/JPY 84.51 will provide firm resistance to a move higher in the short-term.

GBP will be guided by the Bank of England Quarterly Inflation Report on Wednesday as well as the January CPI and retail sales data. The Report will reveal that inflation moderates over the medium term, even if short-term projections are shifted higher. Consequently, interest rate markets may even pare back overly hawkish expectations for UK rates, leaving GBP vulnerable. Nonetheless, markets maybe somewhat more sceptical or at least nervous in light of a likely increase in UK CPI, albeit mostly due to the increase in value added tax (VAT) at the turn of the year. Moreover, GBP may find some solace from a rebound in retail sales in January.

Overall, GBP/USD will take its cue from EUR/USD and the currency is vulnerable to a sustained drop below 1.6000 this week. The fact that GBP/USD IMM positioning is at its highest since September 2008 suggests a lot of scope for a sell-off. EUR/GBP looks like its consolidating in an even narrower range between 0.8400-0.8500.

Another positive slate of US data releases and likely more pressure on US bond markets this week suggest that the USD will find further support, with the USD index likely to take a shot at the 79.00 level. Indeed a further improvement in both the Philly Fed and Empire manufacturing surveys is expected, providing more evidence of strengthening manufacturing momentum, will be borne out in the hard data, with a healthy gain in industrial output expected. Similarly a healthy reading for US retail sales will support the evidence that the US consumer is in full recovery mode.

The positive impact on the USD may be dampened however, by benign inflation readings this week, supporting the view that US policy rates will not be raised for a long time yet. This is likely to be echoed in the Fed FOMC minutes this week. Nonetheless, speculative positioning suggests plenty of scope for short USD covering, with the latest CFTC IMM report revealing the biggest net short position since October 2010.

Econometer.org has been nominated in FXstreet.com’s Forex Best Awards 2011 in the “Best Fundamental Analysis” category. The survey is available at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/fx_awards_2011

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