Equities weaker, US yields lower, USD softer

The US Federal Reserve’s rejection of capital raising plans by several banks taken together with further confrontation between the US and Russia and a disappointing US durable goods orders report were sufficient to result in a sell off in equity markets, lower US yields and a weaker USD.

Gold failed to benefit in yet a further sign that its bull run has ended, with the metal honing in on its 200 day moving average at 1296.71. On the US data front headline February US durable goods orders beat expectations (2.2%) but core orders (-1.3%) were weaker than expected.

Although the lead for Asia is a weak one markets may still find some resilience due to expectations of policy stimulus from China. Similarly dovish talk from the European Central Bank will offer further support to market sentiment while undermining the EUR somewhat. On the data front today the main releases are US Q4 GDP revision (upward revision likely), and UK retail sales (rebound likely).

Eurozone data releases this week

There are several first tier Eurozone data releases on tap this week including March flash purchasing managers indices (PMIs), preliminary HICP inflation and the March IFO business confidence survey.

We look for a slight increase in the “flash” composite PMI, with the data restrained by concerns about China and the Ukraine. Inflation in March could move lower, while the German IFO survey is expected to flat. The data will not be particularly spectacular but ought not to detract from the fact that growth momentum in the Eurozone is picking up.

Lower inflation may provide more support to lower policy rates from the European Central Bank but some of the pressure on the ECB to ease policy rates may have eased given the decline in the EUR last week.

After last week’s sharp drop EUR/USD is likely to consolidate around 1.3800 over coming days.

No relief for risk assets

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the tumultuous build up to the poll the Crimean referendum resulted in an over 90% vote to leave Ukraine and join Russia according to Russian state media. Risk assets were already under pressure leading into the vote and the news is not going to help sentiment in any way, with the West already denouncing the result and Russia seeing it as a validation of its stance. Further sanctions and other punitive measures are likely to be announced leading to a heightening of tensions and increased risk aversion.

Our risk barometer is already well into “risk hating” territory highlighting the intensifying pressure on risk assets and demand for safe havens. Consequently expect the likes of the CHF, JPY and gold to remain under upward pressure and anything with high beta to be under downward pressure.

There is also plenty of data and events to capture the interest of markets this week, with the Fed FOMC meeting capturing top billing. Unsurprisingly no change in policy is expected, with a USD 10 billion taper set to be announced. Fed Chairman Yellen is set to highlight that the bar remains high to any slowing in the pace of tapering while more qualitative guidance is set to be announced.

On the data front US data will remain weather impacted but nonetheless, February industrial production is set to reveal a small gain today while manufacturing surveys will reveal some improvement in March. Additionally housing starts are set to rebound in February. However, Treasury yields are likely to be capped despite more encouraging data as safe haven demand intensifies, leaving the USD also restrained.

In Europe the data flow is less numerous and what there is will support the view that more action is needed by the European Central Bank (ECB) to ease policy. February CPI inflation is set for a downward revision while the German ZEW investor confidence index will slip further.

Talking the Euro down

It looks like the European Central Bank is finally waking up to the fact that belligerence over further monetary policy easing is resulting in a firming in the currency.

The fact that EUR/USD came dangerously close to breaching the psychologically important level of 1.40 must have triggered some panic within the governing council. To counter this ECB President Draghi noted that the currency’s level is becoming “increasingly relevant in our assessment of price stability”.

The problem is that words alone will not do the trick. Draghi believes that enhanced forward guidance will help to loosen monetary conditions by lowering real interest rates and this will weaken the EUR as real rates fall relative to other countries.

The market will expect action and not only words. If the Draghi really wants to weaken the EUR some form of monetary measures will need to be announced otherwise there may be little to stop EUR/USD testing 1.40 and beyond.

In the near term Draghi may have helped cap EUR/USD although technical support around 1.3825 (28 Feb previous high) will limit any downside.

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US dollar under renewed pressure

After hitting a multi month low at the end of last week the USD (index) failed to extend gains this week dropping overnight to 79.592 overnight in the wake of some slippage in US Treasury yields (10 year treasury yields fell to around 2.73%).

Conversely EUR/USD once again breached the 1.39 level despite attempts by European Central Bank officials to convince the markets that the message from last week’s policy meeting was in fact dovish. Markets have yet to be convinced (as do I), however, given that the ECB has yet to put its words into action in terms of further policy easing.

The key to a more sustainable EUR decline / USD recovery is to shake off the bad weather impact on the US economy. This is likely to take place soon although not quickly enough to be revealed in today’s release of US February US retail sales data, which will reveal that core sales remained pressured, leaving the USD without much support.

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EUR and GBP losing ground

Safe haven currencies including JPY and CHF will be the main FX beneficiaries of the current bout of risk aversion although the USD has also edged higher in part due to some slippage in the EUR and GBP. I had noted at the beggining of this week that EUR/USD will remain a buy on dips on any decline to 1.3775. However, after hitting a high around EUR/USD 1.3916 following the European Central Bank’s inaction at its policy meeting last week the currency pair distinctly looks like it has topped out this week. Technical and positioning indicators are also looking less positive for the currency, with the RSI (Relative Strength Index) at a stretched level and speculative positioning above its three month average.

Comments by ECB Vice President Constancio that the markets had not fully taken on the message from the ECB last week that policy will remain accommodative also helped to dampen sentiment for the EUR. Further slippage to technical support around 1.3778 looks likely in the near term.

GBP has lost ground overnight too. Softer data including yesterday’s January industrial production data as well as comments from the Bank of England have weighed on the currency. As noted last week GBP/USD was looking vulnerable above 1.6700 and will face some further short term pressure, with a test of support around 1.6538 looming.

The week ahead

There are plenty of events to chew on over coming days including central bank decisions in Japan tomorrow and New Zealand on Wednesday. The Bank of Japan is unlikely to ease policy further so soon after its actions to boost loan growth while in contrast the RBNZ is set to begin its hiking cycle. On the data front US releases will still be weather impacted to some extent although February retail sales is likely to post a small gain. Moreover, Michigan confidence is set to rise, boosted by higher equity prices.

In Europe, attention will focus on industrial production releases in January, with French and Spanish IP data due to be released today. Overall production is likely to have expanded at a healthy clip of 0.4% MoM in the Eurozone as indicated by survey data. Finally, Australian jobs data is set to show some improvement on Thursday as the pace of deterioration in job market conditions slows.

In Asia the reverberations from the weaker Chinese data will likely impact sentiment across the region. Exports dropped by whopping 18.1% in February while imports rose more strongly than expected at 10.1% yielding a trade deficit of USD 22.99 billion. Central bank decisions in Korea and Thailand are on tap this week. Thailand is a close call, with risks of another policy rate cut but we expect the BoT to stay on hold. Currencies in Asia strengthened last week led by the IDR and INR. Gains this week will be morel limited, especially against the background of higher US yields.

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