Data and central banks in focus

Risk sentiment remains positive although there will be a test of the market’s optimism this week, with a heavy slate of data releases and central bank policy meetings on tap. A Japanese holiday today may start the week off on a quieter note but central bank decisions by the European Central Bank (Thu), Bank of England (Thu), RBA (Tue) and speeches by various Fed speakers will help stir things up.

While none of the central banks are expected to alter policy settings this week there will be plenty of attention on the ECB to see whether they open the door to further policy easing in the wake of softer data including CPI inflation last week. The rout in the EUR over recent days has reflected the expectation of a shift in ECB stance, with the currency likely to continue to edge lower as the meeting approaches.

On the data front, US numbers have looked somewhat perkier, including the ISM manufacturing survey at the end of last week which beat expectations, helping US 10 year Treasury yields to edge back above 2.6%. This in turn has boosted the USD and will likely help to keep the currency supported in the short term.

However, there will be some caution ahead of Friday’s October employment report, which is likely to look decidedly weaker. The expect the impact of the government shutdown to manifest itself in particular in the unemployment rate, which is set to increase to move higher. Aside from the jobs data, US Q3 GDP and October Michigan confidence are on tap.

In Europe, the European Commission will release its Autumn economic forecasts, with deficit forecasts for peripheral countries a particular focus.

In Australia a slate of releases including retail sales, which revealed a much stronger than expected 0.8% monthly increase in September are on tap. The sales data provides more support to the view that the RBA will be disinclined to ease policy further although the relative strength of the AUD will still give the central bank some cause for concern. September trade data and October jobs data are also scheduled for release this week. AUD will find some support from the sales data this morning but will face headwinds from a generally firmer USD.

USD losing steam, AUD, firm, INR bounces back

Risk appetite has sustained an improving trend since the end of August. A combination of an easing in tensions surrounding Syria and firmer data globally have helped to shore up sentiment. Notably the Baltic Dry Index has surged over recent days too, pointing to an improvement in global growth prospects in the months ahead.

US Treasury yields have lost some upside momentum as tapering worries have eased, providing relief to risk assets including emerging market currencies. Consequently the USD continues to lose ground and looks vulnerable to further slippage in the days ahead. Australian employment data and Eurozone industrial production will be the main data releases of note today.,

In Asia, central banks in Korea, Philippines and Indonesia will follow the RBNZ overnight with policy decisions. No change in policy is expected from any of the central banks. Indeed, the recent firming in the rupiah suggests that there will be less urgency for Indonesia’s central bank to hike rates to protect the currency. The Indian rupee has been the best performing currency since the start of the month as portfolio capital has returned. In the near however, the INR looks may struggle to breach the 63.00 level versus USD.

Despite all the doomsayers’ bearish predictions AUD has managed to sustain a solid recovery, helped by the election victory by Tony Abbot and his coalition, and positive data both locally and in China. Additionally a firmer tone to risk appetite has helped the currency provoking some short covering.

Australian jobs data this morning will provide the next test for the AUD but we don’t expect it to get in the way of further short term strength. However, AUD/USD will face some technical resistance around the 0.9440 level. Separately, AUD/NZD lost some ground following a relatively hawkish statement from the RBNZ in which they pointed to the prospects of higher policy rates next year but this is likely to prove to be a temporary set back for the currency pair.

Swiss officials continue to defend the CHF ceiling and show no sign of eliminating it any time soon. We concur as the CHF remains overvalued but the reality is that Swiss economic data has shown some improvement while foreign demand for CHF assets has eased in the wake of improving sentiment towards peripheral Europe as reflected in reduced Swiss banks’ foreign liabilities.

The SNB is also not intervening to hold back CHF gains, with reserves growth flattening out over recent months. Although any reversal of flows from Switzerland will prove sticky the bias for EUR/CHF will be higher. In the near term the currency pair may run into resistance around the top of its recent range around 1.2438.

US dollar on the front foot

Worries about earnings have resulted in a lacklustre performance for equity markets and a gradual increase in risk aversion over recent days. Nonetheless, economic data especially in the US continues to be encouraging as revealed by a spate of recent releases culminating in the October US jobs report which revealed a 171k increase in payrolls and upward revisions to previous months. Although the unemployment rate ticked higher to 7.9%, the trend is one of gradual but unspectacular improvement.

This has provided some support to the USD but notably US bond yields have not reacted much, leaving the USD a little vulnerable to any slippage. Commodity prices continue to be pressured, with a firmer USD and better US data fuelling further downside. The trend is set to continue over coming days especially if the data releases result in reduced expectations for more US quantitative easing.

The USD is likely to remain firm benefitting from weaker economic data elsewhere and a lack of progress with regard to Greece and Spain. Missed debt and deficit targets in Greece highlight the tough task ahead although Greek officials appear to be hopeful that they will receive the votes needed in votes on Wednesday and Sunday to pass reforms and budget cuts demanded by lenders.

This week there will of course be plenty of attention on US elections and various permutations of the outcome and its impact on markets. Polls show that the Presidential race is too close to call although the House and Senate races look like delivering the status quo. The worst case scenario for markets is for a prolonged period of uncertainty if the results produce no clear cut result which could ultimately undermine the USD.

Aside from the elections central bank decisions from the European Central Bank, Bank of England and Reserve Bank of Australia will also garner attention. While an unchanged outcome from the ECB is likely, both the BoE and RBA are set to ease policy further, the former in the form of a GBP 25 billion increase in quantitative easing and the latter with a 25bps policy rate cut. In Europe, the 8 November Eurogroup meeting will also be in focus as officials discuss progress on Greece’s next loan tranche.

EUR slides as summit hopes fade

Any boost to confidence following the recent EU Summit is fading fast. Policy easing from the European Central Bank, Bank of England, and PBoC in China, have done little to turn things around. Moreover, the weaker than expected US June jobs report has added to the calls for the Federal Reserve to inject more monetary stimulus via another round of quantitative easing but this is unlikely anytime soon.

Admittedly the jobs data which reported an 80k increase in payrolls and unemployment rate remaining at 8.2%, was disappointing but it was not weak enough to trigger imminent Fed action. Congressional testimony by Fed Chairman Bernanke on July 17 and 18 will provide the next key clues to whether the Fed is moving closer to more QE.

This leaves markets in a miserable state of being. It was hoped that the recent EU Summit would provide much needed breathing space and relief to Eurozone peripheral bond markets. However, renewed policy implementation doubts, concerns that the Summit did not go far enough and opposition from Finland and the Netherlands who appear to have taken an even tougher stance than Germany, have resulted in Spanish and Italian bonds facing significant pressure once again with yields higher than pre summit levels.

A delay in the ESM permanent bailout fund, timing of the setting up of a banking supervisory authority and doubts about the size of the bailout fund given that the ECB appears to have ruled out a banking license as a means of leveraging up the ESM, are just a few of the concerns afflicting markets. Meanwhile, added to this list is the fact that Greece’s next bailout tranche has been delayed to mid September. Many of these issues as well as the bailout of Spanish banks will be discussed at today’s Ecofin meeting but the chances of much progress remain limited.

The EUR which is of course not uncrorrelated with peripheral bond yields has itself fallen sharply. Thin trading conditions have helped to exacerbate the drop in the EUR while the realisation that the EU summit has been no game changer is increasingly weighing on the currency. I had thought that the Summit may have helped to at least provide a floor under the EUR but this now looks like a case of misplaced optimism.

The only supportive factor for the currency is that it looks heavily oversold, with market positioning extremely short. However, if a break below the 2012 EUR/USD low around 1.2288 can be sustained markets will quickly latch onto 1.20 as the next target. Given the lack of major events or data releases over coming days there looks like little to offer the EUR any support.

Dollar still in a stupor

The increase in the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) funding by $430 adds another layer of firepower to provide help to the Eurozone periphery should it be required. Nonetheless, many other worries continue to afflict markets suggesting that any positive boost will be short lived. There are plenty of data and events this week including central banks in the US, Japan and New Zealand. Additionally US corporate earnings will remain in focus while bond auctions in the Eurozone will also provide direction. I continue to see risk aversion creeping higher against this background.

It is unlikely that the FOMC meeting tomorrow and Wednesday will provoke any change in the currently low FX volatility environment given that policy settings will remain unchanged, with the majority of FOMC members likely to look for the first tightening at the earliest in 2014. The Fed is therefore unlikely to wake the USD out of its stupor and if anything a softening in durable goods orders, little change in new home sales and a pull back in consumer confidence will play in favour of USD bears over coming days. Even a relatively firm reading for Q1 GDP will be seen as backward looking given the slowing expected in Q2.

The EUR will have to contend with political events as it digests the aftermath of the first round of the French presidential elections. The fact that the political process will continue to a second round on 6 May could act as a constraint on the EUR. Various ‘flash’ purchasing managers indices (PMI) readings and economic sentiment gauges will offer some fundamental direction for the EUR but largely stable to softer readings suggest little excitement. Consequently EUR/USD will largely remain within its recent range although developments in Spain and Italy and their debt markets will have the potential to invoke larger moves in EUR.

The JPY is usually quite insensitive to Japanese data releases and this is unlikely to change this week. Key releases include March jobs data, CPI inflation, industrial production and retail trade. Although inflation has moved into barely positive territory the BoJ is still set to increase the size of its asset purchase programme. This will act as a negative factor for the JPY but unless US Treasury yield differentials renew their widening trend against Japanese JGB yields and drop in the JPY will be limited.

Eurozone contagion spreading quickly

Contagion from the eurozone debt crisis is spreading quickly, threatening to turn a regional crisis into a global crisis. As highlighted by Fitch ratings further contagion would pose a risk to US banks. Consequently risk assets continue to be sold but interestingly oil prices are climbing. Taken together with comments earlier in the day from the Bank of England that failure to resolve the crisis will lead to “significant adverse effects” on the global economy, it highlights the risks of both economic and financial contagion.

Predominately for some countries this is becoming a crisis of confidence and failure of officials to get to grips with the situation is resulting in an ever worsening spiral of negativity. Although Monti was sworn in as Italian Prime Minister and Papademos won a confidence motion in the Greek parliament the hard work begins now for both leaders in convincing markets of their reform credentials. Given that there is no agreement from eurozone officials forthcoming, sentiment is set to worsen further, with safe haven assets the main beneficiaries.

EUR/USD dropped sharply in yesterday’s session hitting a low around 1.3429. Attempts to rally were sold into, with sellers noted just below 1.3560. Even an intensification of bond purchases by the European Central Bank (ECB) failed to prevent eurozone bond yields moving higher and the EUR from falling.

Against this background and in the absence of key data releases EUR will find direction from the Spanish 10 year bond auction while a French BTAN auction will also be watched carefully given the recent increase in pressure on French bonds. Having broken below 1.3500, EUR/USD will aim for a test of the 10 October low around 1.3346 where some technical support can be expected.

US data releases have been coming in better than expected over recent weeks, acting to dampen expectations of more Fed quantitative easing and in turn helping to remove an impediment to USD appreciation. While the jury is still out on QE, the USD is enjoying some relief from receding expectations that the Fed will forced to purchase more assets. Further USD gains are likely, with data today including October housing starts and the November Philly Fed manufacturing confidence survey unlikely to derail the currency despite a likely drop in starts.

Contagion spreading like wildfire

EUR continues to head lower and is is destined to test support around 1.3484 versus USD where it came close overnight. Contagion in eurozone debt markets is spreading quickly, with various countries’ sovereign spreads widening to record levels against German bunds including Italy, Spain, France, Belgium and Austria. Poor T-bill auctions in Spain and Belgium, speculation of downgrades to French, Italian and Austrian debt, and a weak reading for the November German ZEW investor confidence index added to the pressure.

A bill auction in Portugal today will provide further direction but the precedent so far this week is not good. The fact that markets have settled back into the now usual scepticism over the ability of authorities in Europe to get their act together highlights the continued downside risks to EUR/USD. Although there is likely to be significant buying around the 1.3500 level, one has to question how long the EUR will continue to skate on thin ice.

The Bank of Japan is widely expected to leave policy unchanged today but the bigger focus is on the Japanese authorities’ stance on the JPY. Finance Minister Azumi noted yesterday that there was no change in his stance on fighting JPY speculators. To some extent the fight against speculators is being won given that IMM speculative positions and TFX margin positioning in JPY has dropped back sharply since the last FX intervention to weaken the JPY.

However, this has done little to prevent further JPY appreciation, with USD/JPY continuing to drift lower over recent days having already covered around half the ground lost in the wake of the October 31 intervention. Markets are likely therefore to take Azumi’s threats with a pinch of salt and will only balk at driving the JPY higher if further intervention takes place. Meanwhile, USD/JPY looks set to grind lower.

GBP will take its direction from the Bank of England Quarterly Inflation Report and October jobs data today. There will be particular attention on the willingness of the BoE to implement further quantitative easing. A likely dovish report should by rights play negatively for GBP but the reaction is not so obvious. Since the announcement of GBP 75 billion in asset purchases a month ago GBP has fared well especially against the EUR, with the currency perhaps being rewarded for the proactive stance of the BoE.

Moreover, the simple fact that GBP is not the EUR has given it a quasi safe haven quality, which has helped it to remain relatively resilient. Nonetheless, GBP will find it difficult to avoid detaching from the coat tails of a weaker EUR and in this respect looks set to test strong support around GBP/USD 1.5630 over the short term.

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