USD undermined, CHF and NZD risks

The surprise drop in US Q4 GDP (-0.1% QoQ annualised) and relatively cautious but not much different Fed statement (pause in growth, elevated unemployment, inflation below long term objective) helped to undermine risk assets, and the USD overnight while 10 year Treasury yields slipped back below 2%. Consequently EUR/USD was propelled above the 1.35 level. Gold prices benefitted however, with the precious metal trading above its 200 day moving average.

The Fed showed little indication of pulling back from its USD 85 billion in monthly asset purchases but that did little to prevent stocks from closing lower. The data calendar is limited in terms of first tier releases today, with ranges likely to dominate and markets turning their attention to tomorrow’s US jobs report.

Following an impressive drop of around 3% from around 9 January the CHF appears to have stabilised, at least temporarily versus EUR. I believe this stability will prove short lived. CHF is finally seeing a reversal in safe haven flows while also suffering from its growing use as a funding currency (again). Indeed, recent weeks have seen a decline in speculative CHF appetite, which I expect to continue over coming weeks.

The recent drop in the CHF has done little to placate Swiss government officials however, while economic data such as the 8 month low registered for the January KoF leading indicator give further support for a weaker currency. There is even renewed speculation that the Swiss National Bank should catch markets on the hop by raising the EUR/CHF 1.200 floor. I don’t expect the floor to be raised anytime soon but do expect more weakness in the still overvalued CHF.

My quantitative models now send a ‘strong sell; signal for NZD but maintain a neutral signal for AUD. Is it time to buy AUD/NZD? Technical signals suggest little upside directional impetus in the short term. Moreover, speculative positioning in AUD/NZD looks stretched. In other words expect range trading in the near term and better opportunities once stale longs have been shaken out.

The RBNZ’s decision to keep policy on hold overnight will have little impact on the NZD given that it was widely expected but the concerns expressed about Kiwi strength will not go unnoticed by market players. NZD has benefited more from the risk rally over recent weeks than AUD but gains in risk appetite according to my risk barometer appear to have stalled. I suggest waiting for opportunities to sell kiwi on any move the 0.84 versus USD

JPY and GBP to slip further

Market gyrations were relatively limited overnight, with a rise in the VIX fear gauge and rise in Chinese equities the most notable market moves overnight. US data was mixed, with enthusiasm over a solid gain in December durable goods orders tempered by a drop in pending home sales. Notably the Baltic Dry Index has extended its decline over recent days, suggesting that the risk rally is losing some steam.

Nonetheless, core debt yields continue to test important psychological levels, with the 2% barrier in sight for 10 year US Treasuries. Data and events today include a US consumer confidence, for which we expect a slight decline in January, and various European Central Bank speakers. Additionally, the ECB’s main refinancing operation (MRO) will be scrutinised to determine bank’s health following last week’s LTRO payback. Overall, direction looks limited ahead of this week’s Fed FOMC decision and US jobs report.

The JPY’s drop has proven to be relentless. Despite being blamed for instigating a currency war Japanese officials are showing little let up in their push for JPY weakness. Although there has been some widening in the US Treasury and German bunds yield advantage over Japanese JGBs it does not fully account for the sharp JPY move. Interestingly speculative JPY short positions have actually lessened, implying that the drop in the JPY is attributable to other investor classes.

Additionally Japan has registered net portfolio inflows over recent weeks and so cannot explain the JPY’s drop. One factor that is weighing on the JPY is the improvement in risk appetite; USD/JPY is the most correlated currency with our risk barometer over the past 3 months. As risk and yield appetite has picked up JPY has effectively regained its mantle as funding currency. USD/JPY will face some tough resistance levels from around the 91.48 level, but so far the currency pair has made short work of breaking through resistance.

In one respect GBP’s drop against the USD and EUR reflects a reversal of safe haven flows similar to JPY. Notably however, GBP has not been correlated with the JPY. Its decline is more associated with renewed UK economic worries and in turn expectations of further Bank of England asset purchases, especially under the helm of a new governor. Moreover, speculation of a credit ratings downgrade has not been helpful to GBP. The net result is a reduction in speculative interest and further selling pressure.

Fortunately for the UK economy a weaker currency is no bad thing unless it provokes growing inflationary pressures. Given the dovish noises from incoming BoE Governor Carney, it looks as though there is little concern on this front. Manufacturing confidence data at the end of this week is unlikely to dispel economic concerns, leaving GBP vulnerable to further slippage.

Currency frictions

I would like to apologise for the lack of posts over the last couple of weeks. I have been on a client roadshow presenting our macro and markets outlook for 2013 to clients across Asia. Having returned the mood of the markets is clearly bullish as risk assets rally globally. Recovery hopes are intensifying as tail risk is diminishing while central banks continue to keep their monetary levers fully open.

A heavy slate of US data releases this week will keep markets busy but overall I see little to dent the positive tone to risk assets over coming sessions. The main events this week include the US January jobs report (forecast +160k) and Fed FOMC meeting (no change likely) while consumer and manufacturing confidence, Q4 GDP and December durable goods orders are also on tap.

In the Eurozone attention will focus less on data but more on Eurozone banks’ balance sheets, with further capital inflows likely to be revealed, marking another positive development following last week’s strong payback of LTRO funds. Elsewhere, industrial production in Japan is likely to reveal a healthy gain while an interest rate decision in New Zealand (no change likely) will prove to be a non event.

As fiscal and monetary stimulus measures are largely becoming exhausted or at least delivering diminishing returns the next policy push appears to be coming from the currency front. The issue of ‘currency war’ is once again doing the rounds in the wake of Japan’s more aggressive stance on the JPY leading to growing friction in currency markets.

In contrast the easing of Eurozone peripheral strains have boosted the EUR, in turn resulting in a sharp and politically sensitive move higher in EUR/JPY. Central banks globally are once again resisting unwanted gains in their currencies, a particular problem in emerging markets as yield and risk searching capital flows pick up. Expect the friction over currencies to gather more steam over the coming weeks and months.

In the near term likely positive news in the form of large capital inflows into Eurozone peripheral banks and sovereign bond markets will keep the EUR buoyed. The USD in contrast will be restrained as US politicians engage in battle over the looming budget debate and spending cuts despite the move to extend the debt ceiling until May.

GBP has slid further and was not helped by the bigger than expected drop in Q4 GDP revealed last week which in turn suggests growing prospects of a ‘triple dip’ recession. The lack of room on the fiscal front implies prospects for more aggressive Bank of England monetary policy especially under the helm of a new governor and in turn even greater GBP weakness.

Swiss franc under pressure

The US debt ceiling continues to garner most attention in markets, with US Treasury Secretary Geithner warning in a letter to Congress about the adverse economic impact of the failure to raise the ceiling. President Obama gave a similar warning, but with current extraordinary measures due to run out between mid February and early March timing is running out.

While Fed Chairman Bernanke echoed this assessment markets found some relief in his speech as it did not repeat the views of some Fed officials in hinting at an early ending of QE. Bernanke qualified his comments by stating that believes that inflation will stay below 2% over the medium term.

EUR/USD could not hold onto highs around 1.3404 but the currency pair does not looks as though it is running out of momentum. As sentiment towards the Eurozone periphery continues to improve and inflows into Eurozone assets increases the EUR is finding itself as a key beneficiary. However, the strength of the currency will only reinforce the weak economic backdrop across the region, which eventually will come back to bite the EUR.

Indeed data today is likely to confirm that the German economy recorded a weak pace of growth over 2012 finishing the year with a contraction in activity over Q4. Our forecast of no growth in the Eurozone this year could face downside risks should the EUR continue to rise. This is unlikely to stem the near term upside for EUR/USD but adverse growth and yield differentials compared to the US will mean that gains in EUR/USD will not be sustained.

The long awaited move higher in EUR/CHF appears to be finally occurring. EUR/CHF is trading at its highest level in over a year and looks set to make further gains. The fading of Eurozone crisis fears, better global economic developments and search for yield, are combining to pressure the CHF versus EUR although USD/CHF is trading near multi month lows.

Additionally improving sentiment outside of Switzerland is not echoed within the country as domestic indicators have worsened recently such as the KoF leading indicator, adding further pressure for a weaker CHF. Recent inflation data revealing a 0.4% YoY in December, the 15th month of annual declines have reinforced the fact that the currency is overly strong. EUR/CHF looks set to move higher, with the December 2011 high of 1.2444 the next target.

USD under pressure, except versus JPY

Following another positive week for risk assets where equities in particular benefitted from substantial capital inflows this week is unlikely to look much different. A host of earnings, especially from financials will help dictate the equity market and in turn risk tone over coming days. There will also be plenty of focus on speeches by various Fed and European Central Bank (ECB) officials including Fed Chairman Bernanke today.

The week will start off in more subdued fashion however, with a Japanese holiday and little fresh news to digest over the weekend. Hope and faith in global economic recovery helped by data releases in the US and China in particular, have helped to calm markets while there is little angst as yet about the looming debt ceiling / spending cut negotiations in the US.

Despite the rush into equities, core bond yields appear to have hit a short term ceiling. Meanwhile, the USD is likely to maintain a weaker tone over the short term except versus JPY where the currency pair has broken through key technical barriers on the top side and is verging on a break of 90.00 helped by more comments over the weekend by Japanese Prime Minister Abe pushing for a 2% inflation target to be implemented.

Data releases this week will maintain the growth recovery story in the US while the Eurozone will continue to show a weaker trajectory. In the US there are plenty of releases to chew on including December retail sales, inflation, industrial production, manufacturing surveys, housing starts, Michigan confidence, and the Fed’s Beige Book. Overall, US releases will help paint a picture of steady and gradual recovery.

In contrast the Eurozone data slate is more limited and what there is (German GDP, Eurozone industrial production) will be less impressive supporting the view of Eurozone economic underperformance over coming months. Admittedly this has yet to affect the EUR which continue to benefit from peripheral bond yield compression and receding crisis fears although EUR/USD will likely run into resistance around 1.3385 which if broken will open the door for a test of 1.3486.

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