What to watch in Europe and Japan this week

European equuty markets ended higher last week shrugging off some disappointing manufacturing and service sector survey readings. The highlight of the Eurozone calendar this week is today’s release of the February German IFO business confidence survey which is expected to register a small increase from the 110.6 reading in January, supporting the message that German growth is consolidating over Q1 14.

Eurozone inflation readings will be important too, with the flash reading of February HICP inflation released at the end of the week set to record another soft reading of 0.7% YoY, supporting the case for further policy easing from the European Central Bank soon.

While the EUR may benefit from a firm IFO reading any gains will be short lived. Soft inflation will help cap gains in the currency especially given the renewed warning this weekend by ECB President Draghi of more policy action if needed.

Elsewhere, data this week will reveal that the main measure of Japanese inflation appears to be peaking around 1%, with core inflation set to decline over coming months. After last week’s softer than expected Q4 GDP reading the pressure on the Bank of Japan for monetary action and in turn a weaker JPY will continue.

Meanwhile, Japan’s job data is expected to reveal that the unemployment rate held steady at 3.7% in January. USD/JPY will remain support around its 100 day moving average at 101.65.

German election results help the euro

St Louis Fed President Bullard put a dampener on the market’s euphoria in the wake of the Fed’s postponed ‘tapering’ announcement. He noted that the Fed’s decision was “borderline”, implying that the Fed was not far from pulling the trigger to the commencement of tapering. Going forward, the timing of tapering will be highly data dependent and obviously recent weaker data releases and possibly the political complications surrounding extending the debt ceiling and agreeing on a budget, played heavily on the Fed’s conscience. However, there are now plenty of questions about the Fed’s communication strategy. There will plenty of Fed speeches over coming days to provide more clarity although Janet Yellen, front runner to succeed Ben Bernanke as Fed Chairman, appears to be keeping conspicuously quiet.

A bounce in China’s September manufacturing confidence revealed this morning as well as a strong outcome in the German elections for Chancellor Merkel (see below) will nonetheless, help to settle some market nerves as the week commences. Merkel’s CDU/CSU party is set to win close to 42% of the vote, which amounts to a very strong mandate. Nonetheless, she will still fall short of an absolute majority while Merkel’s coalition partner the FDP failed to gain enough votes to pass the 5% threshold to win any parliamentary seats means that a new coalition government will need to be formed. The EUR has reacted well to the result, remaining above 1.3500 versus the USD and looks to set consolidate gains over the short term.

Aside from various Fed speakers there will be several data releases to digest over the week. In the US there will be September consumer confidence, August durable goods orders, new home sales, personal income and spending, and revised Q2 GDP data on tap. Overall US data will be reasonably good, with in particular GDP set to be revised higher. In Europe, aside from digesting the German election result there will be a host of business and manufacturing surveys including the German IFO business confidence survey. Consolidation or moderate improvement is expected to be revealed in these surveys, likely giving sufficient support for the EUR to maintain recent gains.

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.

SEK weaker, Asian FX still following CNY

Despite a series of better than expected data releases in the US including October durable goods orders, Case Shiller house prices and consumer confidence the lack of progress towards resolving the fiscal cliff is weighing on risk appetite. Comments by Senate Majority leader Reid of little progress in budget talks hit equity markets and will cast a shadow over risk appetite today.

News that the US did not label China a currency manipulator did little to help as such an outcome was expected in the US Treasury’s semi-annual currency report, especially given the recent appreciation of the CNY. Any positive boost from the Greek aid deal also proved short lived. The lack of major data releases or events today will likely most asset classes within recent ranges.

The EUR has failed to hold onto Greek debt deal inspired gains but looks well supported above 1.2900. The realisation that any aid to Greece will still be subject to several parliamentary approvals, ongoing reforms and a successful debt buy back may have dampened sentiment or more likely the deal was already priced in.

Looking ahead there is little on the economic front to provide any directional impetus for EUR/USD aside from M3 money supply data where a modest increase is expected in October. In contrast the run of better US economic data is set to continue, with October new home sales and the Beige Book likely to provide encouraging reading. The difficulty in reaching agreement on the fiscal cliff may perversely play negatively for the EUR as risk aversion pushes higher.

My quantitative models have continued to point to EUR/SEK upside. Economic data yesterday provided more negative news for the currency, with business and consumer confidence for November recording bigger than expected declines. Q3 GDP data tomorrow will confirm the slowing in the economy, while retail sales are set to record a decline.

However, while the SEK remains vulnerable it is already pricing in some bad news. I suspect that the 26 October high around EUR/SEK 8.7194 will be difficult to break through. I prefer to play SEK weakness versus NOK at current levels.

Asian currencies remain relatively well supported and continue to track movements in the CNY rather than the USD although slightly higher risk aversion will weigh limit the ability of Asian FX to strengthen. USD/KRW looks likely to continue to struggle to break below the 1080 level as markets remain wary of official action to weaken the currency. A likely unchanged rate decision from the Bank of Thailand ought to leave the THB to trade within its tight range.

So much in the price

The weaker than expected US August non farm payrolls data at the end of last week punished the USD and reinforced expectations that the Federal Reserve will announce a fresh round of quantitative easing at this week’s FOMC policy meeting. The shift in expectations for QE has been rapid over recent weeks and the jobs data acted as the icing on the cake. In part USD weakness reflects both QE expectations and the positive reaction to the European Central Bank’s bond buying plan announced last week. In this respect a lot is already priced in to currency markets and EUR/USD will struggle to sustain a move above 1.28 in the short term.

From a risk / reward perspective there are potentially plenty of stumbling blocks this week aside from the FOMC meeting that could skew market direction towards risk rather than reward. These include the German constitutional court decision on the ESM permanent bailout fund and Dutch elections both of which take place on Wednesday. The German court decision is the last needed before the ESM comes into force. Legal experts expect the court to approve the ESM but with tough conditionality. Should the ESM not be approved it would leave any more bailout funds to come only from the cash left in the temporary and dwindling EFSF. Separately the Dutch elections look set to end in weeks if not months of coalition building. These events occur gainst the backdrop of talks between the Greek government and its creditors following failure to agree on spending cuts between Greece’s coalition partners.

Ahead of these events the European Commission will reveal details of plans towards a single banking supervision mechanism. The G20 meeting in Mexico and Ecofin meeting at the end of the week will also garner attention, with any discussion on a European banking union of interest. Meanwhile, following the ECB’s announcement last week the ball is in the court of Spain and Italy to formally request An EU bailout and in turn accept various conditions and targets necessary to receive a bailout. Only then will the ECB commence its ‘unlimited’ bond buying. No date or deadline has been set for such requests for a bailout but given the sharp drop in peripheral Eurozone bond yields over recent weeks in anticipation of ECB bond purchases there is certainly scope for disappointment, with market patience likely to run thin.

Euro relief, but will it last?

The European Central Bank (ECB) decision to embark on outright monetary transactions helped to provide a major lift to markets but did not spur the EUR onto major greater gains. The program of conditional albeit unlimited bond purchases was much anticipated and well received (except by the German Bundesbank) despite many of the details being leaked in advance. The lack of EUR reaction in part reflected this.

In fact, the EUR appeared to rally more in the wake of aggressive buying of EUR/CHF, which finally moved away from its 1.2000 floor, possibly with some official help. Markets will now await the decisions of Spain and Italy which would have to formally request aid for the bond buying plan to be put into action and perhaps there will be some hesitation on the part of the EUR to push higher.

Although there could be some nervousness ahead of the decision by the German constitutional court on the ESM permanent bailout fund and Dutch elections on 12 September the ECB’s move has provided a floor under risks assets over the short term. Given the EUR’s strong relationship with peripheral Eurozone bond yields, the implication is that the drop in the yields will provide some support for the EUR.

Before everyone becomes too excited it should be noted that there is still a long way to go before the Eurozone crisis will be resolved given the many structural and growth issues that need to be overcome. Nonetheless, the downside risks for the EUR are clearly diminishing, leaving the currency in better shape than it has been for a long while.

The fact that EUR/USD is back above its 100-day moving average is a positive signal. Moreover, despite some short covering the market is still very short EUR. However, we would be cautious about becoming overly bullish. Further gains in the EUR will be difficult to achieve given the constant drag on the currency due to relatively weaker growth and the simple fact that many of the underlying issues in the Eurozone remain unresolved.

Market fear rising

In what was fairly subdued trading conditions in the wake of a UK holiday the most interesting market move was the jump in the VIX ‘fear gauge’ which has been on a steady increase since 17 August. The rise in equity volatility suggests that the relative calm experienced over the summer may be ending.

Major events over coming days and weeks including the Jackson Hole Fed symposium on Friday, IMF/EU review of Portugal today, ECB meeting on September 6, Dutch general election on 12 September, German constitutional court decision on the ESM permanent bailout fund on the same day, as well as the Fed FOMC meeting on September 12-13, highlight the potential for more volatility and uncertainty.

Yesterday’s fourth consecutive drop in the German IFO index was all but ignored as attention turns to Jackson Hole. Nonetheless, the announcement of the formation of a working group between France and Germany suggests some improvement in coordination towards finding a solution to the Eurozone crisis, while the ECB’s Asmussen further heightened speculation that the upcoming ECB meeting would detail the ECB’s proposed bond buying program.

Meanwhile, although the Fed’s Evans (non voter) highlighted his preference for more Fed quantitative easing an improvement in consumer confidence in August expected to be revealed today, will add to data playing against imminent QE.

All of the above leaves FX markets in limbo. The USD remains restrained by expectations of Fed QE but relatively better economic data compared to the Eurozone, suggests that any USD decline will be limited. Moreover, the fact that aggregate speculative USD positioning turned negative for the first time since September 2011, suggests that there is now some scope for short covering.

Conversely, hopes of ECB bond buying offer the EUR some solace but as noted, the many events over coming weeks in Europe, highlight the risks to the currency and we suspect that EUR/USD has topped out around 1.2500.

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