EUR sell on rallies, weaker CNY

Ahead of several major events over coming days including the Fed FOMC meeting, EU Summit and Japanese elections the market will continue to appear directionless. Indeed, there was little influence overnight, as markets digested news of Italian Prime Minister Monti’s resignation, with the reality that this merely took place earlier than expected limited any damage. Discussions on the fiscal cliff were ongoing but with no sign of breakthrough as officials noted that the lines of communication remain open.

On the data front the German ZEW survey will be the main highlight for Eurozone markets today, with a likely small improvement set to provide marginal relief to the markets. A conference call by the Eurogroup to discuss Greece is also on tap as any news about the progress of Greece’s debt buyback and aid tranche is awaited. In the US a small narrowing in the October trade deficit is expected but small business optimism is likely to have deteriorated in November. The data and events today will leave markets largely unperturbed.

EUR managed to recoup some of its losses after dropping to a low around 1.2880 versus USD which is a strong support level. EUR/USD continues to look like a sell on rallies, with any break above 1.3000 likely to find strong selling interest. A slightly firmer ZEW survey and potentially positive comments about Greece may help limit any pressure, however. USD/JPY continues to look stretched to the topside as indicated by extreme short JPY market positioning although reports that the Bank of Japan are preparing further monetary stimulus at its meeting next week will limit any retracement.

Asian currencies remain supported although the weaker CNY over recent days will likely undermine closely correlated currencies including KRW and TWD. Nonetheless USD/KRW dropped below the psychologically important 1080 level, with the Bank of Korea smoothing rather than stemming any appreciation in KRW. Markets remain wary of more regulations on the KRW while the weaker CNY will also contribute to acting to resist further KRW appreciation in the near term. The IDR was the major underperformer in the region but comments by the central bank governor about guarding the currency will fuel caution about further selling.

EUR boosted, USD under pressure

Market attention remains fully focussed on events in Japan especially related to the country’s nuclear facilities. Risk aversion has spiked higher as a result, with ongoing Middle East tensions adding to the risk off tone. CHF is a key beneficiary of safe haven demand but the picture for JPY is obscured by repatriation expectations on one hand and FX intervention risks/Bank of Japan liquidity injections on the other, keeping USD/JPY clsoe to the 82.00 level. In contrast the AUD is vulnerable to a drop below parity with the USD on Japan worries, especially as Australia is a key destination for Japanese investment and therefore potential for reversal of such flows if Japanese institutions repatriate funds.

The EUR recovered over recent days as worries about the eurozone periphery ease and peripheral bonds spreads narrow. It is only a matter of time before overly long market positioning catches up with the EUR especially as the prospects of further interest rate support to the currency looked limited; markets have already priced in 75bps of policy rate hikes in the eurozone this year, which looks appropriate. It is difficult to see markets pricing in any more tightening than this over coming weeks. Despite its bounce back EUR/USD will struggle to break resistance around 1.4036.

Markets will digest the fallout from the informal EU leaders meeting last Friday which prepared the groundwork for the official meeting on 24/25 March. The initial reaction of the EUR appears to be positive but there is a significant risk of disappointment if the outcome of the meeting on 24/25 March does not live up to expectations. Indeed although Friday’s meeting resulted in an agreement in principle of a new “pact for the Euro” much will depend on the eventual details later this month.

Leaders also agreed on lowering interest rates to Greece by 100bps, and in principle enlarging the scope of the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) bailout fund to EUR 440 billion. The main positive surprise was opening the door for the fund to purchase eurozone debt. Data releases will offer little support to the EUR this week, with limited gains in the March German ZEW investor confidence survey today likely to leave markets unperturbed.

The USD’s gains last week proved short-lived and the currency will be tested by another relatively dovish Fed FOMC statement today and a benign reading for core CPI inflation in February. The Fed FOMC meeting is unlikely to deliver any changes to the Fed’s stance and whilst there has recently been some speculation that the Fed will soon remove its “extended period” comment, this is unlikely to happen any time soon. The statement will remind markets that the Fed is in no rush to alter its policy settings, an outcome that may limit the ability of the USD to strengthen this week even if data releases continue to remain on the positive side, including manufacturing survey and industrial production over coming days.

Q4 earnings and Chinese data

Since the start of the year the market has gyrated from “risk on” to “risk off” and back again. On balance the overall tone has been just about positive, with firmer economic data, most notably in China outweighing sovereign debt concerns in Greece and elsewhere. Although debt concerns are unlikely to dissipate quickly, especially given Greece’s inability to convince markets of its plans to cut its burgeoning budget deficit, the “risk on” tone is likely to win.

“Risk off” may be the tone at the start of the week however, as US equities ended the week on a negative note ahead of the Martin Luther King holidays. The holidays will likely keep trading slow. Data wise the main US events housing starts on Wednesday and the Philly Fed on Thursday. Q4 US earnings are likely to take a bigger share of market attention as the earnings season rolls on. Bank earnings will be a key focus, with Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, BoA, Wells Fargo and Goldman Sachs set to report this week.

Given the growing influence of Chinese data on markets the monthly data pack from China will capture more attention than usual on Thursday. In particular, GDP and inflation data will be of most interest. GDP data is likely to reveal an acceleration in growth in Q4 YoY to above 10% but given worries about over heating and following last week’s tightening in China’s monetary policy CPI data will be closely scrutinized. Inflation is likely to pick up further maintaining the pressure for further monetary tightening as well as a stronger CNY.

Elsewhere, in the eurozone the main event is the German ZEW survey tomorrow, which is likely to show further signs of flagging, due to Greek concerns. There is also an interest rate decision to contend with; the Bank of Canada is unlikely to surprise markets as it keeps policy unchanged tomorrow. The UK has a relatively heavier data slate, with CPI tomorrow, Bank of England minutes on Wednesday and retail sales at the end of the week.

The UK data kicked off on a positive note this week, with house prices rising 0.4% MoM in January and 4.1% YoY according to UK property website Rightmove, the biggest annual gain in over a year. Moreover, activity on Rightmove’s website reached a record high in the first full week of the year. The data as well as expectations that Kraft will raise its bid for Cadbury will likely help GBP in addition to other GBP positive M&A news. GBP/USD will look to test resistance around 1.6365 this week.

After a slightly firmer start helped by the weak close to US equity markets on Friday the USD is likely to generally trade on the back foot over the week. Speculative sentiment for the USD has definitely soured into the new-year as reflected in the CFTC IMM data which revealed a big jump in net short positions in the week ending 12 January 2010. Net aggregate USD positions shifted from +1.6k to -51.9k over the week, with the main beneficiaries being the EUR, and risk trades including AUD, NZD and CAD.

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