Euro Resilience To Fade

There will at least be a little more liquidity in FX markets today following yesterday’s public holidays in the US and UK. Whether this means that there will be a break out of recent ranges is another matter. Clearly global growth worries as well as eurozone peripheral debt concerns are having an important impact on market dynamics but are also providing conflicting signals.

On the one hand the USD ought to garner support from Europe’s problems but on the other, safe haven demand and growth concerns is bolstering demand for US Treasuries keeping US bond yields at very low levels despite the lack of progress on increasing the US debt ceiling and agreeing on medium to long term deficit reduction.

In the wake of a run of US data disappointments including April durable goods orders, Q1 GDP and weekly jobless claims last week, fears of a loss of momentum in the US economy have intensified. Manufacturing and consumer confidence surveys in the form of the May Chicago PMI and Conference Board consumer confidence survey today will be closely scrutinised to determine whether the ‘soft patch’ in the US economy will persist.

This will have important implications for the USD as worries about growth may feed into expectations that the Fed’s ultra loose monetary policy will be sustained for longer. As it is US 2-year bond yields have dropped to their lowest level this year.

Fortunately for the USD only USD/JPY and USD/CHF have maintained a statistically strong correlation with bond yield differentials although we expect the break in relationship for other currencies to prove temporary. In the case of USD/JPY, yield differentials have narrowed between the US and Japan, a factor playing for JPY appreciation.

Perhaps the fact that unlike the US Japanese data has on balance been beating expectations notwithstanding disappointing April household spending and industrial output data has helped to narrow the yield gap with the US. One explanation is that that worst fears of post earthquake weakness have not been borne out, suggesting that economic expectations have been overly pessimistic. In any case, USD/JPY 80 is still a major line in the sand for the currency pair.

The EUR continues to show impressive resistance, with EUR/USD breaking technical resistance around 1.4345, which opens up a test of 1.4423. Reports that Greece had failed to meet any of its fiscal targets and of harsh conditions set by European officials for further aid have failed to dent the EUR. Whether the market is simply becoming fatigued or complacent will be important to determine if the EUR can gain further.

A report in the WSJ that Germany is considering dropping its push for early rescheduling of Greek debt has given some support to the EUR too. Ongoing discussions this week are unlikely to prove conclusive however, with attention turning to meetings of European officials on 20th and 24th June. I still believe EUR gains will limited, with the break above 1.4345 likely to prove shortlived.

Greece’s trials and tribulations

Two main influences on markets continue to weigh on sentiment. Firstly the trials and tribulations of the eurozone periphery remain centre of attention. The failure of Greek Prime Minister Papandreou to win cross party support for austerity measures at the end of last week highlights the problems Greece is facing both domestically and externally.

Reports that European officials are negotiating tough bailout conditions including major external intervention in terms of tax collection and privatisation suggest that gaining further aid will not be easy. The second weight on market sentiment is global growth concerns, with a string of disappointing data releases over recent weeks leading to an intensification of concerns about the pace of recovery.

Markets will likely remain nervous in this environment and it is difficult to see risk appetite improving to any major degree. This has proven bullish for bond markets, with the tone set to continue this week. Currencies remain in ranges and holidays today in the US and UK will likely result in thin trading. The resilience of the EUR to peripheral concerns has been impressive but at the same time Greek concerns will limit any gains. Meanwhile, gold and precious metals look to remain well supported, with gold’s safe haven bid remaining solid.

USD sentiment has improved sharply according to the latest CFTC IMM report which reveals that net USD short positions have been cut in half over the last two weeks with positioning well above the 3-month average. Conversely net EUR longs continue to shrink as speculative investors off load the currency. The fact that the EUR is not weaker than it is points to the influence of official demand for the currency, especially from Asia.

This week will likely be dominated by ongoing discussions about Greece and given the opposition to austerity measures and potentially strict bailout terms, forging an agreement will not be easy. Reports suggest that around half of Greece’s financing needs until the end of 2013 could be accounted for without new loans via privatisation and changes in terms for private bondholders, with Europe and the IMF needed to lend an additional EUR 30-35 billion on top of the EUR 110 already slated.

Data releases are likely to take a back seat but there will still be plenty of attention on the key release of the week, namely the May US jobs report. The market looks for a 185k increase in payrolls, with the unemployment rate edging lower to 8.9%. This would mark the lowest payrolls reading in 4 months. Clues to the jobs data will be garnered from the May ADP jobs report, ISM manufacturing survey and consumer confidence data earlier in the week.

Risk on, risk off

The USD has lost some upward momentum as risk appetite improved but FX markets remain skittish as sentiment gyrates between ‘risk on’ and ‘risk off’. The fact that US Q1 GDP was left unrevised whilst jobless claims surprisingly increased together with ongoing Greece concerns suggests that a risk off mood may filter into markets despite positive US earnings. Although the USD has not particularly benefitted from any rise in risk aversion lately, worries about the next IMF tranche being withheld from Greece will likely play more positively for the USD.

Nonetheless, lurking in the background and helping to keep the USD restrained is the Fed’s ongoing asset purchases as QE2 remains in place until the end of June. Moreover US data disappointments points to risks that the Fed will only slowly embark on its exit strategy. Additionally any agreement towards extending the US debt ceiling appears to be far off, and threatens to go down to the wire all the way to August 2. US debt markets and the USD appear to be downplaying this issue at present but it remains a clear threat to US markets.

Continuing to limit any upside in the EUR is the fact that officials and markets continue to gyrate on whether Greece will or will not restructure its debt. Apparent divisions between the view of some officials and the ECB are adding to the confusion whilst fresh worries about the IMF withholding funding for Greece will likely keep EUR/USD capped.

Peripheral worries as well as growth concerns are clearly weighing on confidence and a broad based decline in economic and business confidence in various eurozone May measures is expected to be revealed in data today . Weaker data taken together with ongoing concerns about the eurozone periphery will likely see the EUR struggle, with the currency set to settle into a range versus USD over the short-term, with technical support around 1.3968 and resistance at 1.4210.

The loss of USD momentum has also been exhibited in USD/JPY which has turned lower following its recent upward move hitting a low around 81.09. The big news was the fact that April nationwide core CPI recorded its first YoY increase since December 2008. At the margin may reduce the pressure on the Bank of Japan (BoJ) to enact more aggressive policy measures, which in turn is positive for the JPY. A big factor contributing to keeping the JPY supported over recent weeks is the ongoing inflow of foreign capital into Japan’s bond and equity markets, with Japan recording six straight weeks of net inflows.

USD/JPY is one currency pair where the correlation with US – Japan 2-year bond yield differentials is holding up well over the past 3-months. The fact that the yield differential has dropped to its lowest level since November 2010 at around 30bps reveals the declining US yield advantage, and plays for a lower USD/JPY. Against this background the JPY is likely to remain supported in the short-term, but will find it tough to break through technical support around USD/JPY 80.15.

Asia Helps The Euro Again

Following the pressure on markets over recent days there is some relief filtering through markets today although sentiment remains fickle. Weaker than expected US April durable goods orders data failed to dent confidence with equity markets ending in positive territory overnight even though the data added to a plethora of global data disappointments over recent weeks.

Once again the EUR has been saved by Asian demand, this time not directly for the EUR itself but by reports that China and other Asian investors will purchases EFSF bailout bonds, with China apparently reported to be “clearly interested” in the mid June sales of Portuguese bailout bonds, with Asian investors representing a “strong proportion” of the buyers.

Despite the reassuring news about Asian official interest in eurozone debt, problems in the periphery remain a major drag on the EUR. Developments at the two day G8 heads of governments meeting in Deauville and various speeches by officials from the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), European Union (EU) and European Central Bank (ECB) regarding Greece’s travails will be particularly important for EUR direction.

The various speakers are likely to maintain the pressure on peripheral countries to continue their austerity programmes in order to gain external support. Nonetheless, there still appears to be conflicting comments about what Greece will do with regard to its debt burden. Whilst some EU officials have espoused the benefits of extending Greek debt maturities on a voluntary basis, the ECB has steadfastly stood against any form of restructuring.

Other than the events above, in the US the second reading of Q1 GDP will be released. The consensus looks for an upward revision to a 2.1% annual rate from an initial estimate of 1.8% due mainly to an upward revision to inventories. US weekly jobless claims will also be of interest especially as the recent increase in the 4-week average for jobless claims has provoked renewed fears about the jobs market recovery.

US Dollar Ugly But Not Hideous

The USD has strengthened by around 5% since the beginning of the month. The move has been particularly sharp this week as higher risk aversion and intensifying fears about the eurozone periphery have given the currency a boost, albeit with the USD remaining one of the least ugly currencies amongst a fairly hideous bunch.

Eurozone country and overall ‘flash’ May purchasing managers indices (PMI) managed to further sour an already fragile mood yesterday, with the data revealing bigger than expected declines, albeit still at levels that are high in absolute terms. Data today is unlikely to result in any improvement in sentiment for eurozone assets, with the Germany IFO Business Climate index likely to slip, albeit from a relatively high level.

The EUR doesn’t need much of an excuse to sell off at present, with a softer IFO likely to provide further reason for investors to offload long positions in the currency. Against this background EUR/USD is likely to sustain a drop below the 1.4000 level, with the 100 day moving average level of 1.3972 likely to be breached shortly.

More importantly in terms of sentiment drivers the malaise in the eurozone periphery especially Greece remains the biggest risk for the EUR. As much as officials in Europe and Greece deny speculation of debt restructuring the market is far from convinced as reflected in the widening in peripheral debt spreads.

Greece’s Prime Minister Papandreou’s attempt to push through austerity measures in the Greek parliament yesterday by announcing accelerated asset sale plan and EUR 6 billion in budget cuts have done little to turn market sentiment despite the fact that at the least it shows a willingness to stick to the plan in the face of growing domestic resistance.

The USD has also edged higher against the JPY over recent days despite a rise in risk aversion. As revealed in the latest IMM data markets have been net long JPY over the past couple of weeks, with positioning well above the 3-month average, suggesting some scope for a liquidation of long positions. Nonetheless, the rise in USD/JPY has occurred despite 2-year US / Japan yield differentials remaining at a relatively low level suggesting that the USD may lose momentum, with USD/JPY resistance around 82.74 likely to cap gains.

GBP has also slid suffering in the wake of a resurgent USD and unconfirmed reports that Moody’s ratings agency is expected to announce that is placing 14 out of 18 UK banks on review for a downgrade. GBP is likely to trade nervously ahead of UK data releases today including public finances and CBI data, with further downside risks opening up. A drop below GBP/USD 1.6000 could see the currency pair test support around 1.5972.

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