Dollar, Euro and Yen Outlook 2012

The USD index is set for another positive year over 2012 but it will not be a star performer. The USD has been a clear beneficiary of the crisis in the eurozone and will continue to find sustenance unless there are signs of a concrete resolution on the horizon. My forecasts still see the USD index rising to 82.5 by the end of 2012. This would be well below the highs reached during the height of the financial crisis in March 2009 around 89.

While economic recovery is expected to continue over 2012 it will be a tepid one, with prominent downside risks. Therefore, one of the factors likely to hold the USD back is the likelihood that the Fed embarks on a fresh round of quantitative easing which I believe will take place sometime in H1 2012, specifically aimed at mortgage backed securities.

I am not bullish on the EUR but it is clear in my view that there is an underlying degree of support for the currency. In 2012 I expect more downward pressure on the currency. News on the economic front will become more negative and the region is set to slip into recession, albeit a mild one (with downside risks). In contrast, the outlook for the US looks somewhat better even if the recovery will look tame compared to past growth.

Relatively weak growth will maintain the pressure on the ECB to ease monetary policy and further interest rate cuts are likely in the months ahead. Easier policy will be another factor that undermines the EUR. Even if the there was some progress on a resolution to the eurozone debt crisis I doubt that the stress on markets would be relieved overnight. While the crisis has and will not deliver a death blow to the EUR it will mean that investors, even official ones, take a much more cautious view on the currency going forward. I look for EUR/USD to fall to around 1.26 by end 2012.

The JPY has been one of the most well behaved currencies over past months, remaining within a relatively tight range. Unfortunately for the Japanese authorities and for the economy the JPY has failed to build on any negative momentum caused by intervention. I expect USD/JPY and EUR/JPY to edge higher over coming months but the upside for both currency pairs is likely to be gradual over 2012.

Much will depend on whether risk appetite improves and more importantly on yield differentials between Japan and other countries. My end 2012 forecast for USD/JPY and EUR/JPY remain at 85 and 107, respectively but its worth noting that I now expect a firmer JPY in March 2012 against both USD and EUR than previously forecast due to the likelihood of prolonged uncertainty and elevated risk aversion over Q1 2012

Ratings agencies spoil the party

Just as I thought that attention may finally switch to the US along comes the ratings agencies to spoil the party once again. Moody’s and Fitch Ratings criticised last week’s European Union Summit outcome for falling short of a comprehensive solution to Eurozone ills. Consequently the risk of further sovereign credit downgrades across Europe remains high over coming weeks especially as economic growth weakens. Moody’s also put 8 Spanish banks and two bank holding companies on review for a possible downgrade.

The EUR and Eurozone bonds came under pressure as a result, with EUR/USD verging on its strong support level around 1.3146. Further pressure is likely into year end although the fact that the speculative market is still very short EUR may limit its downside potential in the short term. Disappointment that the ECB has not stepped up to the plate to support the Eurozone bond market more aggressively is also having a damaging effect on confidence. A test of sentiment will come from today’s EFSF and Spanish bill auctions while on the data front we look for a below consensus outcome for the German December ZEW survey, which will deteriorate further.

The comments from the ratings agencies resulted in risk assets coming under pressure once again, leaving the market open to further selling today given the lack of positives. US data and events will at least garner some attention, with the Federal Reserve FOMC meeting and November retail sales on tap. We do not look for any big surprise from either of these, but at least the Fed may sound a little more positive in light of firmer data over recent weeks. Even so, speculation of more Fed QE early next year will remain in place. In the current environment demand for US Treasuries remains strong with a Treasury auction yesterday receiving the highest bid/cover ratio since 1993.

The Devil is in the details

The “partial solution” delivered by European Union (EU) leaders last week has failed to match the high hopes ahead of the EU Summit. Nonetheless, the deliverance of a “fiscal compact”, acceleration of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) to July 2012 , no forced private sector participation in debt restructuring (outside Greece), and possible boost to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) of up to EUR 200 billion, are steps in the right direction. The fact that UK Prime Minister Cameron threw a spanner in the works to veto a joint proposal to revise the EU Treaty should not detract from the progress made.

Nonetheless, the measures may not be sufficient to allay market concerns, with disappointment at the lack of European Central Bank (ECB) action in terms of stepping up to the plate as lender of the last resort still weighing on sentiment. Data will add to the disappointment this week as “flash” Eurozone purchasing managers indices (PMI) drop further in December.

This week events in the US will garner more attention, including the Federal Reserve FOMC meeting, November inflation and retail sales data plus manufacturing confidence gauges as well as November industrial production on tap. The Fed will not shift its policy stance at this meeting but may sound a little more upbeat on the economy following recent firmer data. Inflation will likely remain subdued while the other data will continue to show gradual recovery.

Overall, the market is likely to thin further as the week progresses and holidays approach, with ranges likely to dominate against the background of little directional impetus. Our call to sell risk assets on rallies remains in place, however. The EUR will likely struggle to make much headway in the current environment, especially given that many details of the EU agreement still need to be ironed out and once again the risk to market confidence lies in implementation or lack of it. A range of EUR/USD 1.3260-1.3550 is likely to hold over the short term.

All Eyes On Europe

EUR looks range bound ahead of key events including the European Central Bank (ECB) meeting, European Union Summit and release of bank stress test results. A senior German official poured cold water over expectations of a concrete outcome from the EU Summit, dampening EUR sentiment as a result.

There will be plenty of attention on the ECB to determine whether they will give a little more ground and provide further assistance to the Eurozone periphery. While a refi policy rate cut is highly likely as well as additional liquidity measures I do not expect any move in the direction of more aggressive action to support peripheral bonds in terms of becoming “lender of the last resort’.

If however, the ECB hints at intensifying its securities market purchases of Eurozone bonds this will likely bode well for the EUR. Indeed, reports overnight suggest that the ECB will announce a set of measures to stimulate bank lending including easing collateral requirements for banks.

More weak UK data in the form a bigger than consensus drop in manufacturing and industrial production in October add to the soft BRC retail sales and house price data, in putting pressure on the Bank of England (BoE) to increase its quantitative easing at today’s policy meeting. While the BoE is set to keep policy unchanged it is only a matter of time before additional asset purchases are announced.

Despite the weaker IP data GBP has held up relatively well against the USD although downside risks appear to be intensifying. If I am correct in the view of no change by the BoE today we expect little change in GBP although there could be a risk of a push higher in EUR/GBP if the ECB delivers some positive news, with resistance seen around 0.8665.

The RBNZ unsurprisingly left policy rates unchanged at 2.5%, sounded less hawkish than the previous meeting and also lowered growth forecasts. The NZD was left unmoved by the rate decision and looks well supported at current levels perhaps due to relief that the statement was not more dovish. The kiwi has been an underperformer over the year but unlike the AUD it has not been particularly influenced by gyrations in risk aversion.

Interest rate futures differentials have seen a renewed widening versus the US over recent weeks. This is significant given that the NZ-US interest rate differentials have a very strong correlation with the performance of NZD/USD. If this widening is sustained it will point to upside potential for the Kiwi.

High Hopes for the EU Summit

Following the knock to the EUR from the S&P ratings news on Eurozone countries yesterday the currency has managed to regain a semblance of stability ahead of the European Union Summit beginning tomorrow. Expectations that the Franco-German deal announced late Monday (Fiscal compact etc) will be rubber stamped at the summit are high and the warning shot by S&P suggests that the stakes are even higher should there be no further progress this week.

Aside from putting the ratings of 15 Eurozone countries on negative watch S&P stated overnight that the EFSF bailout fund could be downgraded too. The EUR however, looks supported ahead of the summit and European Central Bank (ECB) meeting tomorrow, with news of discussions to beef up the bailout fund to two separate entities likely to further underpin the currency. EUR/USD short term support is seen around 1.3330.

The cut in the Reserve Bank Australia (RBA) cash rate piled on the pressure on the AUD, especially as a rate cut was not fully priced in although its weakness was limited by the relatively neutral RBA policy statement. The statement did not support expectations of more significant easing in the months ahead and data this morning in the form of a much stronger than expected Q3 GDP reading reinforced our view that markets are too dovish on Australian interest rate expectations.

Next it’s the turn of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) but unlike the RBA we do not expect an interest rate cut. The room for policy easing in New Zealand is limited, especially given that inflation is above the Bank’s 1-3% target band. Both the AUD and NZD are highly correlated with interest rate differentials and therefore any shift in rate expectations will have an important bearing. AUD and NZD have benefitted from a widening in yield differentials with the US and are likely to find garner some resilience from this fact over coming sessions.

EUR/GBP has continued to grind lower over recent months while GBP/USD appears to have settled into a range. GBP sentiment has clearly worsened over recent weeks as reflected in the deterioration in speculative positioning in the currency, with the market becoming increasingly short. Data releases have not been particularly helpful, with data yesterday revealing that UK house prices fell in November and retail sales dropped more than expected.

There will be more disappointment, with October industrial production likely to drop today. Our forecast of a 0.8% monthly highlights the downside risks to consensus expectations and in turn to GBP today. The data releases will if anything add to pressure on the Bank of England to embark on more quantitative easing, which will be another factor that restrains GBP over coming weeks. We continue to look for more GBP strength versus EUR but weakness against the USD over the short term. A move to support around GBP/USD 1.5469 is on the cards over the near term.

S&P Spoils The Party

Although stock markets registered gains the rally in risk assets stumbled, with sentiment knocked by news that S&P ratings has placed 15 Eurozone countries on negative watch for a possible downgrade due to “systemic stresses”. Among the 15 were Germany and France. Weaker economic news in the form of service sector purchasing managers indices in China and the US also dented market sentiment.

The Eurozone countries including all six triple A rated governments have a one in two chance of a downgrade within 90 days. Although there has been speculation of a French downgrade the major surprise was the inclusion of Germany in the list. A downgrade of Eurozone countries would hit the ability of the EFSF bailout fund to finance rescue packages for countries give that it is supported by sovereign guarantees from the six AAA rated countries.

Ironically the S&P announcement followed news that German Chancellor Merkel and French President Sarkozy have agreed on treaty changes revealing some progress ahead of the Eurozone summit on 8/9th December. Among the details of the agreement private sector bond holders will not be asked to bear any losses on any future debt restructuring, automatic sanctions for countries that breach the 3% deficit / GDP rule, a “golden rule” on balanced budgets, and an earlier data for the launch of the European Stability Mechanism to 2012.

The “fiscal compact” will be welcomed by the European Central Bank (ECB), with hints by President Draghi that it could be followed by stronger action from the central bank. Although S&P spoiled the party somewhat overnight, markets will go into the EU Summit with high expectations, suggesting that risk assets will find some degree of support. EUR slipped on the S&P news but further losses will be limited ahead of the EU Summit, with markets looking for further concrete actions from Eurozone leaders. EUR/USD will be supported around 1.3260 in the short term.

Risk Appetite Buoyed by Central Banks

Co-ordinated central bank action led by the Federal Reserve to lower the rate on USD liquidity by 50bps was accompanied by a cut in China’s reserve requirements and an easing by Brazil of its benchmark Selic rate. Unsurprisingly risk assets have rallied strongly overnight but once the announcement effect wares off the reality that the underlying tensions in the Eurozone remain in place will see any boost to sentiment wane. The move by the Fed will be a boon to the banking sector but should actually not have been too surprising as this tool was an easy one to use and one that should have been expected given the ample room to cut pricing on USD liquidity swap arrangements.

The other boost to markets overnight was the strong November ADP jobs report, which came in at 206k in November, and will lead to upward revisions to Friday’s payrolls data. Indeed, we now look for a 175k increase in non-farm payrolls from 120k previously. The trend of better than expected US data continued with a stronger than forecast reading for November Chicago PMI at 62.6. We expect this to be echoed by an increase in the ISM manufacturing survey today and the Fed’s Beige Book, all of which will at least allay concerns of a renewed US recession.

What will be important is whether the Fed move will be followed up by other measures from governments and central banks over coming days. Although European Union (EU) leaders have agreed to enhance their bailout fund attention is centred on French and German leaders, with hints that there could be a strong announcement over coming days. At the least, the upcoming EU Summit on 8/9 December will be expected to deliver concrete results otherwise the market rout will continue.

The USD will remain under pressure following the moves by central banks in line with the improvement in risk appetite. High beta risk currencies ie those with the highest correlation to risk over the past 3-months will benefit the most. These include RUB, AUD, TRY, CNH, KRW, GBP and CAD in respective order of correlation. All of these currencies are likely to register gains over the short term, especially given anticipation of further announcements from European officials and a reasonable US jobs report tomorrow.

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