CNY influence on Asian FX continues to grow

Asian currencies remain generally well supported both by a softer tone to the USD in general as well as a stronger Chinese currency, CNY. Since the USD/RMB high of 6.3964 on 25 July the RMB has appreciated by around 2.4% vs. USD. This equates to an annualized pace of appreciation of around 6.2%. The RMB is unlikely to continue to strengthen at such a rapid pace and could even be prone to a softer tone into year end.

Potential renewed weakness in the CNY could presage downside risks to Asian currencies. Also worth noting is the fact that equity portfolio capital inflows to Asian have slackened over recent weeks (Indonesia, Philippines and Taiwan registered outflows over October), a factor that could also pose risks to Asian currencies.

The influence of the RMB on Asian FX has continued to grow. Correlations or sensitivities between Asian currencies and the CNY remain are stronger than Asian FX sensitivities to USD movements. The implication is that USD index gyrations are having less influence on Asian currencies.

The most correlated currencies with the CNY are KRW, SGD and TWD although all Asian currencies with the exception of the INR register statistically significant correlations with the movements of USD/CNY. Notably our quantitative models show that the KRW, SGD and TWD are overbought relative to their short term fair value estimates.

While the USD is still influential in driving some Asian currencies several currencies including KRW, CNY and IDR do not possess a statistically significant sensitivity to the USD over the past 3-months. Should the CNY undergo renewed weakness it will mean that the currencies noted above namely KRW, SGD and TWD will be the most vulnerable to weakness given their high sensitivity to CNY.

US dollar to edge higher

As US elections approach the USD appears to be holding up reasonably well, edging higher against major currencies including EUR and JPY helped in some part by a recent increase in risk aversion. Notably Asian currencies remain firm taking their cue from a firmer CNY rather than the slightly stronger USD. The notable break below 1100 for USD/KRW highlights the still strong impetus for Asian currencies.

Although a fixation with the outcome of the US elections may limit market movements the USD is likely to remain generally well supported ahead of the important US October jobs report. In general US data this week will look relatively positive, with consumer confidence, the October manufacturing ISM survey and likely to move higher in October. Non farm payrolls in October are also likely to be stronger than the September increase although the unemployment rate may edge higher to around 7.9%.

In contrast progress in the Eurozone on the debt front is frustratingly slow, with little sign of any request for Spanish financial assistance. At least there appears to be some traction in Greece, with agreement on spending cuts amounting to around EUR 13.5 billion to be deliberated this week opening the door to the next disbursement of loans to the country. Lack of progress in Spain taken together with superior US data (note economic sentiment gauges in Europe are set to reveal a deterioration tomorrow) will weigh on the EUR, with the currency likely to continue to drift lower, with a test of 1.2825 on the cards.

The JPY has been a relatively exciting currency over recent days, having weakened against the USD in the wake of higher US bond yields. Expectations of additional easing by Japan’s central bank at its meeting tomorrow are also helping to put pressure on the JPY. The BoJ is expected to announce an additional JPY 200 billion of purchases of Exchange Traded Funds and additional purchases of JGBs. Such action has partly been priced in and while the JPY will remain under some short term pressure a sustained break above USD/JPY 80 appears unlikely unless the central bank delivers more aggressive measures than anticipated.

JPY, GBP and CHF outlook

USD/JPY blipped above 79.00 in the wake of a report in the Japanese press that states that the Bank of Japan (BoJ) is considering more easing measures at its board meeting on October 30 in order to achieve their 1% inflation goal. Higher US bond yields in the wake of the better than expected US data releases this week are also acting to support USD/JPY.

Given that Japan has effectively been less aggressive than other central bank yet has a fairly ambitious inflation goal, pressure for more aggressive BoJ action should not be surprising. However, in the past the BoJ has underwhelmed and unless US yields continue to push higher, USD/JPY may end up back in its recent ranges. USDJPY 79.23 is a strong initial barrier for the currency pair to cross to establish any move higher.

GBP/USD has edged higher since hitting a low just under 1.60 late last week benefitting in large part from general USD weakness. This is unsurprising given the strong correlation between GBP/USD and the index. However, the true reading of GBP is evident on the crosses and here the picture is far less positive. GBP has lost ground against the EUR and looks set to weaken further.

GBP losses may be limited to around 0.8198 given that interest rate differentials have turned more GBP positive recently. UK retail sales and public finances data today will give further direction and although a bounce back is likely in September sales any positive impact on GBP is likely to be short lived as the currency continues to be restrained by expectations of more BoE QE.

The expectations of a request for Spanish aid and ensuing European Central Bank (ECB) action has managed to alleviate inflows into CHF assets, helping the SNB’s task of protecting its 1.2000 line in the sand for EUR/CHF. Consequently FX reserves growth is likely to slow which in turn will reduce diversification flows from the SNB into other currencies. My forecasts continue to show both EUR/CHF and USD/CHF moving higher by year end.

However, in the short term USD/CHF will edge lower amid general pressure on the USD. Upcoming data releases including trade data today will help give some indication as to whether the SNB’s policy stance is having a positive economic impact. The sharp drop in the CHF nominal effective exchange rate since the implementation of the CHF ceiling will help but there are still many domestic companies calling for a weaker currency.

USD under pressure, AUD resilient

Risk assets registered further gains in the wake of speculation that Spain is close to requesting aid and stronger than forecast US Q3 earnings and economic data. US earnings have beaten expectations at 73% of the 48 companies reporting while US industrial production rose by a bigger than expected 0.4%. Meanwhile German resistance to a full Spanish aid appears to be crumbling as the door opens wider to a formal Spanish request for a credit line.

Additionally German data was a big more encouraging as the German ZEW investor confidence survey recorded its second straight monthly gain. Aside from rallying global stock markets the Baltic Dry Index continued its ascent and even gold prices showed some stability around the $1750 level. There is little to distract from the more positive market tone today, with US earnings and the EU Council meeting in focus.

The USD has come under renewed pressure as risk appetite improves. Firmer US data has contributed to improving risk appetite which in turn would usually be expected to weigh on the USD. However, better data may also act to lessen expectations of the magnitude of Fed QE, which should play positive for the USD. This is the theory but in practice the USD relationship with risk aversion has slipped while a lot of QE expectations were already built into the currency.

I don’t see the pressure on the USD intensifying much further. Conversely the EUR remains very well supported as hopes grow of a Spanish request for bailout funds. I believe expectations of concrete action at the EU Summit beginning tomorrow are overdone, with significant decisions on Spain and Greece only likely in November. EUR/USD will struggle to break above resistance at 1.3180.

AUD bears failed to garner support yesterday as the currency easily overcame a blip lower in the wake of the RBA minutes yesterday. While sounding dovish there was little new in the minutes, with no fresh information on future policy actions. In any case markets have already priced in further easing at the 6 November RBA meeting suggesting little further risk to the AUD. Following its failure to build on any downside momentum AUD/USD looks set for a test of resistance around 1.0404, consistent with the upside signal from my quantitative model.

One impediment to AUD gains is the fact that speculative market positioning remains long. However, positioning is now much lower than its three-month average and well off its recent highs suggesting that there is less likelihood of a further bout of profit taking or position squaring. Reduced long positioning will allow the AUD to recoup some lost ground.

Risk appetite firms

More encouraging news in the US in the form of a bigger than forecast increase in September retail sales and stronger than expected earnings from Citigroup Inc. helped to boost equity markets and risk assets in general. The US data follows on from recent positive consumer confidence and housing data.

Meanwhile, the VIX ‘fear gauge’ dropped while the Baltic Dry Index continued its ascent. The latter is particularly encouraging in terms of its positive implications for global growth. This is corroborated by my own risk barometer which continues to move lower. In contrast, commodity prices dropped, with gold prices losing more ground as better US data acts to dampen expectations of the magnitude of Fed QE that will need to be carried out.

I expect the constructive risk tone to be maintained with data releases both in the US (industrial production) and Europe (German ZEW investor confidence) to be supportive of risk assets. A reports in the FT today that Spain is verging on requesting a bailout will also come as welcome news for markets although there has yet to be confirmation of such a request.

Despite the better market tone I do not see major breaks out of recent ranges, with attention on the 84 S&P 500 companies set to release earnings this week and developments at the upcoming EU Council meeting. Hesitation ahead of a slate of Chinese data tomorrow will also cap market movements today.

Firmer risk appetite is usually negative for the USD but it is notable that my risk barometer has had a positive and significant correlation with the USD over recent months. In other words, lower risk aversion has actually been associated with a firmer USD. I see the USD remaining supported especially if expectations of the magnitude of Fed QE are pared back although the USD will likely lose some momentum given growing hopes of an imminent Spanish bailout request.

Asian currencies look relatively firm against the backdrop noted above. The most sensitive Asian currency to risk is the KRW and notably USD/KRW has finally broken below 1110, which opens the door for a test of 1100. TWD, THB, MYR and INR are also major Asian FX beneficiaries in an environment of better risk appetite. I expect Asian currencies to continue to trade with a firmer tone in the short term helped by strengthening capital inflows. Firmer Chinese CNY fixings are also aiding Asian currencies.

USD to edge higher

The surprise rise in the US University of Michigan sentiment survey to its highest level in 5 years provides a better backdrop for asset markets at the start of the week although the follow through is likely to be limited. Chinese exports data may help sentiment its worth noting that Chinese imports were weak. Overall, it appears that the appetite for taking on equity risk is easing as prospects of disappointing US Q3 earnings and lingering growth concerns weigh on sentiment.

Markets may nonetheless, be given some encouragement from economic data this week including likely gains in September US retail sales, industrial production and October Empire State and Philly Fed manufacturing surveys. This will be echoed in Europe, with a second straight increase in the German ZEW investor confidence survey expected to be revealed in October. While the data will do little to ease global growth concerns it will at the very least suggest a renewed downturn is not on the cards.

Economic data may however, take a back seat once again as attention will turn to political developments around the EU Council meeting on 18-19 October. Any major developments are unlikely to emerge from the meeting although Spain and Greece will be on high on the agenda. The lack of progress in the eurozone towards a bailout in Spain and the distribution of Greece’s next loan tranche will once again restrain any positive tone to markets, leaving most asset markets within ranges.

Currencies do not look as though they are about to break out of recent ranges. Nonetheless, the USD will likely continue to edge higher against the background of growing cautiousness towards risk assets. Indeed, there has been some major short covering in the USD over the past week as reflected in CFTC IMM data and I expect the trend to continue as QE3 USD fears increasingly fade. Conversely, EUR short positions are building up once again and the lack of traction towards resolutions in Spain and Greece, point to growing EUR downside risks in the days ahead.

Spain downgraded

Pressure on Spain has intensified in the wake of a two notch downgrade to the country’s debt to just one notch above junk at BBB-. S&P cited “the significant risks to Spain’s economic growth and budgetary performance, and the lack of a clear direction in euro-zone policy”. The slow progress towards a sovereign bailout for Spain will have likely played a role in the decision, a factor that is also weighing on general market sentiment. The debt downgrade may on the margin increase the pressure on the Spanish government to request a formal bailout.

Nonetheless, risk assets including peripheral Eurozone bonds do not appear particularly stressed although it may only be a matter of time before pressure escalates. Italian bond supply today may give some further direction on this front. US Q3 earnings will have some bearing on sentiment too as concerns have grown that they will disappoint. With little on the data front (highlights include Eurozone country September inflation and US trade data) attention will focus on comments from the IMF meetings against the background of growing global growth worries.

Against this background the EUR is likely to continue to drift lower, with the currency set to test support just under the 1.2800 level AUD will have got a boost from the relatively positive September jobs report released this morning, which revealed a 14.5k increase in employment. The positive impact may slightly be mitigated by a rise in the unemployment rate to 5.4% from 5.3%, which also gives further evidence supporting the RBA’s recent rate cut. The data will at least help to alleviate some of the concerns about the jobs market following last month’s surprise drop in employment. My preference is to play AUD via going long positions versus EUR.

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