CHF under pressure

In sharp contrast to AUD but for the same rationale (improving risk appetite and low volatility) the CHF has succumbed to pressure. Comments this week by Swiss National Bank officials highlighting their resolve to enforce the CHF cap, their belief that the currency is still overvalued, and are prepared to take further steps, highlight that the Swiss authorities wish for a much deeper correction lower in the currency. This is unsurprising as the CHF real effective exchange rate has been on a strengthening path over recent months, much to the likely chagrin of the SNB.

The fact that Swiss CPI inflation dropped back into negative territory on a YoY basis in February reinforces the need to further weaken the currency. Steps such as negative deposit rates and/or FX intervention cannot be ruled out. In the meantime, USD/CHF looks set to test resistance around 0.8930 (26 Feb high).

CHF pressures

USD/CHF and EUR/CHF enjoyed a bounce as risk aversion eased but continued uncertainty over the situation in the Ukraine suggests that any upward momentum will be limited. The fact that the largest economic impact from any worsening in tensions with Russia will be felt in the Eurozone highlights that life may become difficult once again for the Swiss National Bank as renewed safe haven inflows move into the country. Indeed the EUR/CHF floor at 1.20 may be tested over coming weeks. Data tomorrow will likely give further reason for the SNB to oppose CHF strength, with the annual rate of CPI inflation set to remain very low.

Fed keeps the party going

The party goes on! The Fed decided to play on the side of caution by not acquiescing to market expectations. The FOMC maintained its current USD 85 billion of asset purchases wanting to see more evidence of economic recovery before pulling the trigger. Market expectations centred on a USD 10-15 billion paring back of asset purchases. Clearly worried about a rise in market interest rates Fed Chairman Bernanke strengthened the Fed’s forward guidance by highlighting that the first rate increase may not come until the unemployment rate is “considerably below” 6.5%. A downgrade in the Fed’s economic forecasts will also have helped to justify the inaction by the FOMC.

Clearly risk assets loved what they saw, with equities and commodities rallying and US Treasury yields dropping. Gold prices in particular jumped on the news while the VIX ‘fear gauge’ dropped. The USD was a major casualty losing ground to most currencies, with notably EUR/USD spiking above 1.35 and GBP/USD to above 1.60. High beta emerging market currencies were big winners, given the positive impact of lower US yields and prospects of ongoing capital inflows. While the Fed has merely delayed tapering this will not stop markets from following through on the positive dynamic today. The positive tone will be reinforced across Asian and European markets.

The sharp drop in US Treasury yields hit the USD hard and it is likely to remain under pressure over the short term against a variety of currencies. Although the drop in US yields is likely to prove temporary it is difficult to go against the move in the near term. In order to identify which currencies will benefit the most versus USD I have looked at their sensitivity to US 10 year Treasury yields. The biggest beneficiaries will be Asian currencies given that they register the strongest correlations. The IDR, THB, MYR and INR are at the top of the list in this respect. In any case Asia was already experiencing a resumption of capital inflow as tapering expectations were being priced in and the Fed inaction will reinforce this trend.

GBP bounced following the unanimous vote for no policy shift revealed in the Sep 3-4 Bank of England MPC meeting minutes. Its gains were reinforced by Fed inaction overnight, with GBP/USD breaking through key levels above 1.60. Although the MPC’s 9-0 vote for no change was in line with expectations there was a minority looking for one of two MPC members to have voted for increased asset purchases. Citing upside risks to the growth outlook the BoE appears more confident about the UK’s economy. However, this all but makes a mockery of “forward guidance” and attempts to cap market interest rates. A further test for GBP will come from today’s August retail sales release. There are downside risks to consensus but even this may prove to a temporary stumbling block to a resurgent GBP.

The Swiss National Bank is widely expected to keep policy unchanged today and will make no changes to the CHF ceiling. The desire to keep the ceiling in place remains strong even though the economy is showing signs of recovery, deflationary pressures are receding and capital inflows from the Eurozone have diminished and in fact showing signs of reversing, albeit slowly. Reflecting this SNB reserves growth has slowed while Swiss banks’ foreign liabilities have decreased. The fact that the currency remains overvalued however, means that there is only an extremely slim chance that the ceiling will be removed over coming months. Although the SNB will likely revise upwards its growth forecasts, expect a cautious tone to emerge from the meeting. Accordingly EUR/CHF is set to remains capped around 1.2400 over the near term.

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.

It’s all about communication

Calm has settled over markets as anticipation builds ahead of tomorrow’s Fed FOMC outcome. Equity markets registered broad based gains globally while US yields rose and the USD stabilized. It’s worth reiterating that effective Fed communication is the key to ensure that this calm continues otherwise market volatility will quite easily return.

Yesterday’s mixed data releases did not offer much to the debate on Fed policy as the Empire manufacturing survey rose more than expected but disappointed on the detail, while home builders’ confidence jumped. May CPI inflation data will perhaps offer more clues today, with a benign reading likely to ensure that markets do not get carried away in expecting any major shift in Fed policy. In Europe, a likely decline in the German ZEW investor confidence survey in June will do little to boost confidence in recovery.

GBP/USD has rallied impressively over recent weeks although much of its gain has been spurred largely by USD weakness rather than inherent GBP strength. Nonetheless, UK data has looked somewhat more encouraging, a fact that has played some role in reinforcing GBP gains. Whether this continues will depend on a slate of data releases this week including retail sales on Thursday. CPI inflation data (today) and Bank of England MPC minutes (tomorrow).

On balance, I look for UK data to continue to paint an encouraging picture of recovery, which ought to provide further support for GBP. However, the risk / reward does not favor shorting the USD at present and I suggest playing further GBP upside versus EUR.

CHF has strengthened as risk aversion has flared up. While I remain bearish CHF over the medium term the near term outlook will be driven by risk gyrations (given the strong correlation between CHF and our risk barometer). Both EUR/CHF and USD/CHF have already fallen sharply having priced in higher risk aversion.

Obviously much in terms of risk appetite will depend on the Fed FOMC outcome tomorrow and I would suggest caution about shorting the CHF just yet. Additionally Swiss data in the form of May trade data and more importantly the SNB policy decision this week will be watched closely, especially given the threat by SNB Jordan of implementing negative interest rates. I don’t expect any shift in policy on Thursday, however, leaving USD/CHF firmly supported around 0.9130.

Since Fed Chairman Bernanke highlighted the prospects of Fed “tapering” during his testimony on May 22 commodity currencies have performed poorly. The notable exception has been the CAD which has eked out gains over recent weeks. Like GBP, the CAD has been helped by relatively positive data releases, which in turn have prompted growing expectations of policy rates hikes from the Bank of Canada. Market positioning in CAD remains relatively short, suggesting more scope for gains over coming weeks. Meanwhile, data this week including May CPI and April retail sales will be scrutinized for clues as to the next move from the BoC and in turn whether gains in CAD are justified.

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