Markets taking their cue from China data and Bernanke

After having been on the road visiting clients across Asia over the last two weeks the overall tone to markets feels slightly better than when I left. Risk appetite is improving as central banks attempt to dampen the spike in yields, by initiating “forward guidance”. On balance, markets appear to be making the volatile transition to Fed tapering with less angst than a couple of weeks back.

Despite the confusion over China’s GDP growth target the tone at the start of the week is positive. China’s Q2 GDP slowed compared to Q1 coming in at 7.5% YoY from 7.7% previously but arguably last week’s comments by China’s Finance Minister that China was targeting growth of 7% (later revised in to 7.5%) had arguably done a good job in guiding market expectations lower. In the event the market reaction to the Q2 GDP release was limited.

Aside from China’s data, markets have taken their cue from Fed Chairman Bernanke’s dovish comments last week when he noted that policy will remain “highly accommodative” for the “foreseeable future”. Discomfort at the sharp rise in US Treasury yields will have played a part in spurring such comments, with the net impact being one of improved risk appetite.

Further clarification from Bernanke will be sought during his semi-annual monetary policy report to Congress mid week although he is unlikely to diverge from his recent comments. Nonetheless, US yields and the USD will likely creep higher over coming days helped by firmer data including the June retail sales report today.

Eurozone markets will have little on the data front to digest aside from the German July ZEW survey this week, leaving the fragile state of Portuguese politics in the spotlight. Potential for fresh elections remains a distinct possibility although discussions over forming a new government will continue this week. Overall, this would suggest some underperformance of Eurozone markets and the EUR over the coming days.

In the UK the release of CPI inflation data in June and Bank of England MPC minutes will garner most attention. Inflation is likely to have pushed through the 3% threshold, requiring new governor Carney to write a letter to the UK Chancellor Osborne explaining the reasons for the rise in inflation pressures. Meanwhile the MPC minutes will take a slightly more hawkish stance, with a 7-2 vote expected as Carney will most likely have sided with the majority unlike his predecessor. Against this background GBP is set to gain some ground, especially against the EUR.

Asian currencies made up some ground following the Bernanke inspired drop in the USD last week but given that the region continues to suffer from equity portfolio outflows gains will be difficult to hold over coming days. Nonetheless, the good news is that the haemorrhaging in capital flows to the region has diminished, with only USD 73.6 million in equity outflows from Asia registered month to date.

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.

Calmer sentiment

Gains in US stocks overnight will help to calm sentiment. The fact that US equities were able to shake off the 6%+ plunge in the Nikkei yesterday reveals the different perspectives in both markets. US markets were helped by a bigger than expected increase in headline US retail sales in May and a bigger than expected decline in weekly jobless claims.

A WSJ story that Fed Chairman Bernanke would highlight at next week’s Fed FOMC meeting that a “considerable” amount of time would pass before ending QE and raising rates also likely contributed to firmer sentiment while pressurizing Treasury yields lower. Commodities’ markets also showed some sign of stabilization.

The data slate today consists of mostly US releases including May industrial production and June Michigan confidence both of which are likely to record positive outcomes. Markets are likely to digest the data well and after recent bouts of volatility a period of calm ahead of next week’s FOMC meeting will be welcome.

The USD index has suffered a dramatic reversal of fortunes since reaching a high just under 84.5 on 23 May dropping by around 4.3%. Its tumble has taken place despite higher US bond yields and risk aversion, both of which would usually be expected to boost the currency. Fed tapering nervousness has done nothing to support the USD despite prospects of reduced asset purchases.

The USD’s move should not be seen in isolation, however. In the wake of major position adjustments across many asset classes usually strong correlations have broken down. Given recent record long USD positioning over recent weeks the pull back in the USD versus major currencies may have further to run but we suspect that much of the decline has already taken place. Given that the USD appears to be more strongly correlated to equities at present it may find some support from the gain in US stocks overnight.

Assuming that the USD’s declines begin to slow and even reverse the EUR is unlikely to extend its gains much further. The overall backdrop for the EUR is not particularly positive, with growth data remaining weak, albeit less so than in previous months. Additionally there are renewed concerns about Greece due to protests over the shutdown of the state broadcaster highlighting the difficulty in implementing crucial deficit cutting measures.

Meanwhile, European Central Bank Board member Mersch once again highlighted the possibility of utilizing negative deposit rates, which ought to prove to be a negative influence on the EUR, while other members including President Draghi continue to defend the potential use of OMT. EUR/USD will run into strong resistance around 1.3434 and I expect the upside momentum to fade over coming sessions.

Bernanke hits Treasuries, boosts dollar

Fed Chairman Bernanke’s prepared testimony expressed no hurry to scale back policy accommodation given the risks to economy recovery. However, in the Q&A session following the testimony he noted that the Fed is prepared to adjust the current flow rate of asset purchases in response to incoming data. Importantly in terms of timing Bernanke hinted that the Fed could “take a step down in the pace of purchases” in the next few FOMC meetings dependent on the data. While it is likely that many FOMC members want to see more evidence of recovery especially in the jobs market a reduction in asset purchases in Q4 is likely assuming this evidence if forthcoming. The FOMC minutes echoed this sentiment.

Bernanke’s comments and the minutes fuelled plenty of market volatility, with equities selling off after an initial rally and Treasury yields rising, with the 10 year US Treasury yield flying through the 2% level. Commodities dropped and the USD strengthened, with USD/JPY breaking through 103.00. This pattern is likely to be echoed in Asian trading today but much of the market reaction to the Fed has already occurred and it will need more evidence of either stronger US data or more hawkish Fed comments to extend yesterday’s moves. US jobless claims today will take on more prominence in this respect in the absence of other major data releases with the exception of a likely gain in April new home sales.

The USD is set to consolidate its gains over the short term firmly underpinned by higher US bond yields. Funding currencies (JPY and CHF), yielding and commodity currencies (AUD, NZD and CAD ) look most vulnerable to a firm USD although almost all currencies have felt some of the pressure. The net result is that the USD index has reached its highest level in close to 3 years. Given that the rise in US yields may only mark the beginning of a deeper reversal the upside for the USD over coming months could be significant.

Fortunately for Asian currencies they have not been particularly sensitive to USD strength over recent months as domestic factors have taken on more prominence although the KRW and SGD have been particularly sensitive to JPY weakness. Nonetheless, Asian currencies are set to remain under pressure over the short term as concerns of a slowing in capital flows to the region may grow. Singapore’s better than expected Q1 GDP reading (1.8% QoQ) released this morning will do little to stem the pressure. Meanwhile comments by Korean officials on the impact on the country’s exports from a stronger JPY will keep the KRW pressured.

Taking the wind out of the EUR, JPY watching the flow, AUD watching RBA

Market activity was limited yesterday due to holidays in the UK and Japan but will pick up today as both markets reopen. The positive reverberations from the US April jobs report continue to provide a fillip to markets but the impact is already fading.

Once again risk assets are relying on central banks to provide the steroids for further support. In this respect it was the turn of European Central Bank President Draghi to take up the baton yesterday as he noted that further interest rate cuts are possible. Today’s data slate is thin, with the Reserve Bank of Australia policy decision and German March factory orders the main highlights.

ECB President Draghi took the wind out of the EUR’s sails as he highlighted the possibility of further policy easing. Also helping to keep the EUR under pressure was the rise in US Treasury yields; the 10 year yield differential with bunds has widened to close to 52 bps, which due to the strong correlation with EUR/USD is likely to cap any gains in the currency pair.

As Draghi noted prospects for further easing will be highly data dependent which in turn means that the EUR will be more data sensitive in the weeks ahead. The prospects of negative deposit rates in particular will continue to send shivers down the spines of EUR bulls. Look for EUR/USD to be capped around 1.3168.

As Japan returns from holiday USD/JPY is verging once again on a test of psychologically important 100 level. The trigger for the renewed bounce in USD/JPY was a jump in US bond yields following the better than expected US jobs report. In the absence of major US data releases this week Fed speakers including Chairman Bernanke will give further direction to bonds and in turn USD/JPY.

A further widening in the US yield advantage over Japan will be required to push USD/JPY higher especially as recent flow data have shown both Japanese investor repatriation and net foreign buying of Japanese portfolio assets. Despite these inflows we expect a break of 100 to occur very soon, with appetite for foreign assets from Japanese lifers and government pension fund, providing much of the ammunition for a sustained move higher.

AUD has started the week badly having suffered in the wake of the weaker than expected Chinese service sector confidence data and the surprise drop in Australian retail sales in March. Reports that the Australian Treasury will lower growth forecasts for the next two years in part due to AUD strength does not bode well for the currency either.

The data has emboldened doves looking for a policy rate cut from the RBA today and while the decision is a very close call as reflected in market pricing and consensus expectations, the balance of risks suggests that the RBA will hold off this month. This may however, come as scant relief for AUD as markets will likely push back easing expectations to the next meeting on 4 June.

Nonetheless, downside for AUD is likely to be limited, with speculative positioning already at a relatively low level. Strong support for AUD/USD is likely around the 4 March low at 1.0115.

USD under pressure, except versus JPY

Following another positive week for risk assets where equities in particular benefitted from substantial capital inflows this week is unlikely to look much different. A host of earnings, especially from financials will help dictate the equity market and in turn risk tone over coming days. There will also be plenty of focus on speeches by various Fed and European Central Bank (ECB) officials including Fed Chairman Bernanke today.

The week will start off in more subdued fashion however, with a Japanese holiday and little fresh news to digest over the weekend. Hope and faith in global economic recovery helped by data releases in the US and China in particular, have helped to calm markets while there is little angst as yet about the looming debt ceiling / spending cut negotiations in the US.

Despite the rush into equities, core bond yields appear to have hit a short term ceiling. Meanwhile, the USD is likely to maintain a weaker tone over the short term except versus JPY where the currency pair has broken through key technical barriers on the top side and is verging on a break of 90.00 helped by more comments over the weekend by Japanese Prime Minister Abe pushing for a 2% inflation target to be implemented.

Data releases this week will maintain the growth recovery story in the US while the Eurozone will continue to show a weaker trajectory. In the US there are plenty of releases to chew on including December retail sales, inflation, industrial production, manufacturing surveys, housing starts, Michigan confidence, and the Fed’s Beige Book. Overall, US releases will help paint a picture of steady and gradual recovery.

In contrast the Eurozone data slate is more limited and what there is (German GDP, Eurozone industrial production) will be less impressive supporting the view of Eurozone economic underperformance over coming months. Admittedly this has yet to affect the EUR which continue to benefit from peripheral bond yield compression and receding crisis fears although EUR/USD will likely run into resistance around 1.3385 which if broken will open the door for a test of 1.3486.

Market tensions set to return

Having returned from my summer break it appears that markets are in reasonable shape. Volatility is low, while equities have registered solid gains over recent weeks and markets in general appear to be more settled. In part this is due to hopes and expectations of further stimulus measures in the US and Europe. The coming weeks may be much less calm than experienced over the summer.

Having lost steam over recent weeks the USD may benefit from renewed market nervousness over coming weeks. On the one hand there are hopes of more Fed stimulus in September following comments by Fed Chairman Bernanke that there is “scope for further action”. More information will likely come from the Jackson Hole Fed symposium on Friday and expectations of more quantitative easing could restrain the USD.

On the other hand, it increasingly appears that the summer rally in risk assets is beginning to fade, a factor that will help the USD. The latter effect is likely to be more dominant on the USD especially as it is far from clear that another round of Fed quantitative easing will be USD negative. My analysis suggests that the impact on the USD from QE is ambiguous.

There is plenty of event risk over coming weeks which could feed potential nervousness in the market and help the USD. Markets have to contend with the IMF / EU review of Portugal’s aid program tomorrow which takes place against the background of reports that deficit targets have slipped amid weakening growth. In addition, the 6 September European Central Bank (ECB) meeting will be a major focus given expectations of a further cut in policy rates and other policy steps to purchase Eurozone peripheral debt

Aside from these events, Dutch general elections on 12 September could provoke more uncertainty given that polls currently show a split outcome while the decision by the German constitutional court on the ESM permanent bailout fund on the same date will add to tensions especially as the outcome remains unclear.

Meanwhile, discussions and speculation on Greece’s future within the Eurozone or at least some easing in its bailout terms and a potential formal request for Spanish bailout from the EFSF temporary bailout fund will run alongside these other uncertainties.

To cap it all off, these events combined with the the Eurogroup / Ecofin meeting on 14-15 September will leave markets with plenty to fret about over coming weeks. EUR/USD will struggle to extend upon its gains against this background, with moves above 1.2600 likely to provide better levels to sell EUR.

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