NZD outperforms

NZD has been the best performing major currency so far this year outshining other currencies by a wide margin. We expect further NZD/USD appreciation, albeit at a much more gradual pace over the coming months.

The kiwi has been propelled higher by a host of positive economic indicators including jobs data which has revealed an improving trend against the background of strengthening consumer and business confidence.

Economic growth is on track to reach our forecast of 3% this year. Additionally supportive of the NZD is the fact that NZ’s major commodity exports especially dairy products have remained high. NZD will also be helped by a likely healthy reading for Q4 GDP expected to come in at 3.7% YoY on Thursday.

NZD/USD looks set to target the 2013 high of 0.8676 as the next key target, a level that will provide strong resistance.

RBNZ sends a hawkish message

The RBNZ delivered few surprises by raising policy rates by 25bps to 2.75% overnight. The decision was widely expected but nonetheless managed to give further support to the NZD. The kiwi benefitted from a relatively hawkish statement, with the central bank stating that rate hikes totalling 125bps are likely over the coming months while revising higher its growth and inflation forecasts.

Despite some jawboning to talk the NZD lower RBNZ governor Wheeler noted that opportunities for FX intervention were low. Gains in the NZD look impressive given the headwinds from growth worries in China and lower commodity prices but downside risks remain limited, with NZD/USD set to sustain a move above 0.8500 in the near term. Also positive for NZD is the fact that milk prices continue to remain well supported.

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.

Some respite for emerging market assets

Large gains in many emerging market currencies have been registered in the wake of policy rate hikes in Turkey and to a lesser extent in India. Also some encouraging data in Asia in particular a widening in South Korea’s current account surplus helped to shore up confidence in regional currencies. Not wanting to throw cold water on the move but while everyone is lauding Turkey for its bold move the reality is that its aggressive rate hike will hit growth at a time when its economy is fragile.

The massive rate hike in Turkey (repo rate hiked from 4.5% to 10%) fuelled a bounce in risk appetite nonetheless, although most risk measures have only reversed part of the move registered over recent days. It is way too early to suggest that everything is returning back to normal and the rally in risk assets looks vulnerable to fading out over coming days.

While I am not a proponent of the nervousness in emerging markets turning into a renewed crisis, uncertainty about country specific issues such as slowing growth and deleveraging in China, fundamental and political uncertainties / elections in Thailand, India, Indonesia. Ukraine and countries in the “fragile 5” against the background of Fed tapering, suggest rocky times ahead.

Moreover, the market may have priced in another $10 billion of Fed tapering today but the reality is that the global liquidity injections provided by the Fed will be reduced over coming months. Additionally a likely renewed rise in US Treasury yields will add another layer of pressure on emerging market assets.

Although emerging market currencies have strengthened most G10 currencies remain in a tight range. G10 FX gains were led by the AUD and NZD while JPY came under renewed pressure. This pattern is likely to continue in the near term. Aside from the Fed FOMC there will be some attention on the Reserve Bank of New Zealand too. The RBNZ is expected to keep policy rates unchanged but there is a small chance of rate hike or at the least a hawkish accompanying statement which ought to keep the NZD supported.

Bad news is good

Risk assets retained their positive performance into the end of last week, with US equities closing the week higher and the VIX ‘fear gauge” closing lower while 10 year US Treasury yields continued to pivot around 2.5%. Meanwhile the USD remains on the back foot finding little help from data releases especially last week’s September employment report. Friday’s release of September US durable goods orders similarly disappointed, with core orders coming in weaker than anticipated. The bad news is good philosophy of markets means that weaker data is helping to aid expectations that Fed tapering may be delayed, in turn boosting risk assets.

This week will bring much of the same. There are a plethora of US data releases on tap including September industrial production today, retail sales, CPI inflation and October consumer confidence and ISM manufacturing. Additionally there is a Fed FOMC meeting this week although no surprises are expected at this meeting. US data releases will look relatively soft but given the market mood this will bode well for risk assets. The jury is out with regard to the timing of tapering but increasingly many are looking for it take place in Mar/Apr 2014.

Europe has a more limited data calendar including the Bank Lending Survey of credit conditions and economic sentiment indicators. These will look a bit more positive than previous months. In Japan September jobs data and industrial production are on tap. Additionally two central bank meetings from the Bank of Japan and RBNZ will not result in any surprises, with policy set to remain unchanged.

It is difficult to see the USD achieving much of a recovery against the background of relatively weaker US data releases although it does appear that a lot of bad news is already priced in. The fact that US Treasury (10 year) yields have stabilised around 2.5% will help to limit any further downside pressure on the USD. Moreover, even if US data are softer this week, much of the market has already pared back tapering expectations into next year, suggesting little scope for expectations of a further tapering delay.

USD/JPY is finding some support around its 200 day moving average at 97.38 and given the stability in US yields will find some support in the near term. EUR/USD remains supported and will likely benefit from more encouraging Eurozone data releases this week but gains above 1.3800 are beginning to look increasingly stretched. GBP/USD pulled back from its highs around 1.6248 last week despite a reasonably good 0.8% QoQ Q3 GDP reading. This week’s UK data is likely to be little softer, with manufacturing confidence (PMI) likely to edge lower for a second straight month, a factor that could undermine GBP further.

Risk appetite continues to shrink

Risk appetite continues to shrink as the ongoing nervousness over Fed tapering continues to provoke significant position adjustments across markets. Markets will have to wait for next week’s Fed FOMC meeting to find to find greater clarity over the timing and extent of Fed tapering although there will be some further input to the Fed decision from today’s US May retail sales release.

In the meantime US Treasury yields continue to move higher even as risk aversion also intensifies, revealing the extent of the shake out that is currently being felt in US bond markets. The USD which would usually be expected to rally on higher yields and elevated risk aversion, remains under pressure against most major currencies although it continues to run havoc against emerging market currencies.

USD/JPY’s decline is showing no sign of abating. The combination of elevated risk aversion and disappointment over recent policy announcements, in particular the lack of detail about Prime Minister Abe’s third arrow, has prompted ever more upside for the JPY. The impact of these factors is negating the impact of higher US Treasury yields, which would usually act to push USD/JPY higher.

As the rout in equity markets appears to be showing little sign of subsiding the JPY looks firmly supported in the near term, especially as the picture is unlikely to change ahead of next week’s FOMC meeting. Additionally, the options market looks to be expecting more JPY upside as reflected in risk reversal skews, with volatility overall continuing to look elevated.

The RBNZ policy decision overnight provided another blow to the NZD, with the central bank highlighting that economic growth is “uneven” and noting that the kiwi remains overvalued, acting as a burden on the tradables sector of the economy. Moreover, in the Q&A session governor Wheeler maintained the pressure on the currency, indicating once again the risks of FX intervention to weaken the NZD if needed.

After dropping by over 8% since its cyclical peak on early April the NZD looks set to remain under pressure in the short term amid elevated risk aversion although it was encouraging that the currency did not fall further following the RBNZ. Our valuation models show that the currency is oversold and if anything the selling pressure will abate over coming weeks.

NZD hit by FX intervention

Following previous warnings threatening intervention to weaken the NZD the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) intervened to sell the currency. The impact was sharp, with NZD falling versus USD and against key crosses including AUD. The NZD has been one of the best performing major currencies this year although its appreciation of 1.33% is not dramatic. However, going back to its cyclical low in March 2009 NZD had appreciated by a massive 72.6% versus USD prior to today’s intervention.

Previous warnings by RBNZ governor Wheeler include a speech in February when he noted that the “kiwi is not a one-way bet”. However, he noted that while the central bank is prepared to intervene to weaken the NZD any intervention would “only attempt to smooth the peaks”.

The last time that the RBNZ confirmed that it had intervened was way back in June 2007 when NZD/USD was trading around 0.75. The intervention failed to prevent further NZD strengthening until late July 2007 when the kiwi slid around 17% against the USD but this fall was notably not due to FX intervention.

Although Wheeler noted today that the RBNZ is capable of more intervention he added the intervention is “designed to take the top off the currency” consistent with his earlier comments. The bottom line is that more smoothing is likely but a significant push to change NZD direction is highly unlikely. The overall trend in NZD is likely to remain gradually upwards although gains will likely be more gradual given likely market caution over further RBNZ smoothing operations.

Taking a broader view the RBNZ is playing a similar game to many other central banks in attempting to weaken or at least prevent strength in their currencies. The Bank of Japan (BoJ) is clearly succeeding in finally weakening the JPY, while the RBA in part cut policy rates yesterday due to the strength of the AUD. While a full blown currency war remains unlikely currency frictions are picking up. I prefer to play the latest move in NZD by selling it versus AUD where we I see more value.

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